Historic Agreements between Israeli and Palestinian Trade Unions
In a landmark agreement, the Histadrut (Israeli TUC) and the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) signed an agreement in August 2008 to base future relations on negotiation, dialogue and joint initiatives to advance “fraternity and co-existence.”
The agreement, negotiated under the auspices of Guy Ryder, the former General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), was based on the terms of an initial 1995 agreement that collapsed due to the failed peace talks between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority in late 2000 and the subsequent outbreak of the Second Intifada.
The 1995 Agreement
Initial collaboration between the two federations started in 1993 after the signing of the Oslo Accords. In 1995, in a key step forward, the Histadrut and the PGFTU agreed that the Histadrut would provide legal representation to
Palestinians working for Israeli employers and the PGFTU would receive 50 percent of all union representation fees from Palestinian employees working in Israel.
When the arrangement froze due to political and security conditions, major differences between the two parties ensued as to how much money the Histadrut still owed the PGFTU. This became increasingly difficult to evaluate over time as the number of Palestinians working in Israel significantly dropped during this volatile period.
Used as a justification for boycotts
A number of critics of Israel within the trade union movement, especially in the UK and Ireland, emphasised the disagreement and attempted to stir up trouble between the Histadrut and the PGFTU; repeatedly using it as a justification for promoting trade union boycotts, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel. The fact is that throughout even the most difficult times, the two organisations continued to have dialogue and the Histadrut continued to help Palestinian workers attain permits.
Ofer Eini, Chairman of the Histadrut, said during a visit to the UK in May 2008 that boycotts “would certainly cause severe damage to Palestinian workers who are employed by Israeli employers, and would create unnecessary tension between the Histadrut and the PGFTU”.
New PGFTU/Histadrut Cooperation
Against the backdrop of improved conditions between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, better cooperation between the Histadrut and the PGFTU has followed.
At the Histadrut’s 2007 annual Congress, the PGFTU was officially represented and the delegation present affirmed its commitment to maintain and extend constructive relations.
Histadrut petitions High Court
An example of this cooperation was evident in October 2007 when the Histadrut successfully petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice for Israeli labour law to be applied in the occupied territories, something they were previously denied. Nine judges ruled that Palestinians working for Israeli employers in West Bank settlements should be given the same work benefits provided by Israeli law. The ruling set an important precedent that benefits thousands of Palestinians working for Israelis and Israeli companies throughout the West Bank.
Israeli/Palestinian trade union agreements
In another program of joint cooperation, over 20 Israeli and Palestinian transport union representatives signed a number of collaborativeagreements at a bilateral meeting organised by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) in June 2007, setting up a hotline so that any unnecessary hold ups can be quickly resolved.
These agreements have created an environment of trust between transport workers, enabling them to get on with their jobs and lives.
Further recent developments between Israeli and Palestinian construction unions to give apprenticeships to Palestinians alongside their Israeli counterparts will provide the vital skills needed to develop the infrastructure of a future Palestinian state.
Whilst this is not a panacea to end the conflict, they are building blocks for trust and confidence towards a long-term peace settlement and crucially have the full endorsement and approval of the PGFTU. A boycott would prevent these kinds of initiatives and prevent Palestinians from attaining vital skills for the future.
The historic August 2008 agreement, negotiated under the umbrella of the ITUC, has helped defend the rights of Palestinian workers; led to improvement in their day-to-day lives and is paving the way for continuous cooperation.
All financial issues have been settled, and as well as providing Palestinian workers with trade union services and representation fees, the numerous new agreements encourage participation in educational and vocational training workshops. It is truly a significant turning point for trade unionists in the region and something which is having positive repercussions for the ongoing peace process.
Speaking of the 2008 agreement, Shaher Sae’d, the PGFTU General Secretary of the said it removed:
“a key obstacle to future cooperation and the full respect of the rights of Palestinian Workers.”
And Ofer Eini said that the outcome had helped:
“lay the foundations for future cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian trade unions and progress in our shared quest for justice, peace and prosperity for all in the region.”