Thursday, 7 April 2016

Live reports from delegation to Palestine - unions, working conditions and learning

Third report from a delegation to Palestine and Israel by Sam Macartney, UNISON Scotland International Chair: Early start this morning to beat the traffic and the check points, yes there is wall to wall check points - makes a few people feel safe but many others living under occupation.

Sam Macartney at the
Yasser Arafat memorial
Reached Ramallah, and it felt good to be in a Palestinian city were people could smile a little, Our first meeting of the day was with DWRC (democracy and workers rights centre) who advised us of their continued fight to achieve right and safe working conditions for workers and families in Ramallah.

This group, with ties to some trade unions, assists many groups in the city and continues to help children who are forced into work even at the age of 12 to 14 years old. These children need help and support with employers who care nothing for age and exploit them daily.

Violence and harassment are common place with 12% of children spoken to stating they have been subjected to ill-treatment. Israeli employers seem indifferent to child protection laws.

We had to leave too soon to make our next meeting with the BNC (Palestinian National Boycott Committee). The group is led by the very capable Omar Bhargouh, chair of the BDS committee, who advised us of their ongoing battles with a government hell-bent on destroying the BDS movement. Recently a senior Israeli cabinet minister threatened Omar with 'civil assassination(?)' and over the last month 1,400 workers have been arrested and taken to court in handcuffs for alleged working without a work permit. This is life under occupation.

The committee said they need the ongoing support of all trade unions especially as the Israeli government have upped the ante with the support of the UK and France. They need our ongoing help, this is something that we must do.

We continued our day with a meeting with the Palestinian Authority minister for home affairs who give the delegation an update on issues relating to Gaza and confirmed that Gaza is a ticking time-bomb.

She also shared her frustration with us as the EU and the UN continue to play games on the issue of Palestine recognition as a full member state and doing nothing to stop the continued land grabs - settler house building - with the blessing of the Israeli government.

We were informed that after much pressure the UN have agreed to provide a list of companies providing and selling service to Israel. We look forward to getting this information .

Next stop was a brief but informative meeting with the PGFTU (Palestine General federation of trade unions) who informed us of their attempt to get an agreed benefits system in place to provided workers with social security benefit and better contract protection.

Gaza as always is an ongoing issue as water and food are in very short supply and the union has been given no access to Gaza.

Our final delegation took us to meet KSTI (knowledge and socialist thought institute) at Birzeit University. This is an excellent incentive to train young people to learn skills for life and work which hopefully will encourage them to remain in Palestine and help build a better future for all. Many great ideas were mooted and a great willingness to learn and support communities in and around Ramallah and beyond.

We wish them every success in this endeavour with the support of trade unions and local government in Ramallah.

My view, coming to Palestine you know not what to expect or expect what you find. An open mind is a bonus and friendship will be your reward.

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