Wednesday, November 09, 2011

West Bank settlement to apply Israeli law to Palestinian workers

Ma'aleh Adumim first town to contract municipal employees according to Israel directives, equalizing routine working conditions of Palestinian workers to those of Israel workers.

By Nir Hasson

The Ma'aleh Adumim municipality came to a precedent-setting agreement with its Palestinian employees last week, whereby it will recognize their rights in accordance with Israeli labor laws. Until now it was the Jordanian Labor Law from 1965 that was applied to the labor arrangements in this Jewish settlement beyond the Green Line, based on the local authority's legal argument that it is that law that applies in the territories. The agreement is considered precedent-setting, because it relates for the first time to the routine employment conditions of Palestinian workers and their equalization to the conditions of Israel workers. In the agreement, the Ma'aleh Adumim municipality has taken upon itself a commitment to employ the workers under Israeli law and to apply to them the collective work agreements in force for municipal employees throughout the country. This means that henceforth they will enjoy social benefits that were not given to them previously. Moreover, the municipality will pay the workers NIS 1.5 million, for wage differentials and for lawyers' fees.

More than two years ago, about 60 municipal workers, members of the Jahalin Bedouin tribe who live adjacent to Ma'aleh Adumim, a town of some 40,000, sued in Labor Court to be employed under the Israeli labor laws. In the wake of their suit, filed on their behalf by attorney Shlomo Lecker, a process of mediation between the sides began, presided over by retired Judge Dina Efrati. Employers, including the local councils in the territories, benefit from a lacuna in the law that enables employment of foreign workers cheaply and without any oversight. Thus, for decades Ma'aleh Adumim's municipal employees, like most of the Palestinians hired in the Jewish settlements, were employed without any social benefits, pension arrangements or oversight of their conditions of employment, as the law requires inside Israeli territory. In most cases the Palestinian workers also do not enjoy the improvements made in the Jordanian law since 1965.

In 2007, in the wake of a petition by a group of workers from Givat Zeev, a bench of seven at the High Court of Justice ruled that the local council must pay them severance compensation in accordance with Israeli employment laws. "The question remains as to why lengthy court procedures were necessary in order to bring about the obvious outcome from the High Court precedent by an expanded bench handed down in October of 2007," wondered Lecker. "Why did the municipality argue in court until recently that it was proper to continue to apply the Jordanian law to the plaintiffs?"

Municipality director general Eli Har Nir says in response that Ma'aleh Adumim will be the first employer in the country to have such a large group of Palestinian municipal workers employed under Israeli law. "The situation that has been created isn't easy and it has serious budgetary implications for us," admitted Har Nir. "We had an agreement with the workers from 2005 that adopted the Jordanian law. The agreement is valid and was approved by a court but circumstances led to the filing of the new suit. We have studied its details and we agreed, at the judge's recommendation, to the mediation process."

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