A major gain for WAC-MAAN and for Palestinian workers as Labor Court ordains Maya Food Industries negotiate with the union and pay 160,000 NIS in damages for obstructing its drive to unionize the company

In a ruling issued on November 26, 2019, the Regional Jerusalem Labor Court judge, Justice Daniel Goldberg, decreed that WAC-MAAN (henceforth WAC) is the official representative union of the workers of the Maya Food Industries company, having unionized over a third of the company’s workers, most of them Palestinians residing in the West Bank. The judge determined that the company failed to respect its employees’ right to unionize by attempting to fire or suspend workers, pressuring workers to leave the union, and giving unambiguously preferential treatment to the National Labor Federation (Histadrut Leumit – a union that affiliated to the Likud). The court ordered the company to conduct collective bargaining negotiations with WAC, and pay it damages to the sum of 160,000 NIS for obstruction of the freedom to unionize.

The verdict was given more than three months after WAC first announced the unionization of a first group of Palestinian workers in Maya on August 14. From that moment on, the company made a concerted effort to prevent WAC from setting foot in the factory. Among other things, the company fired workers on the grounds of downsizing, while bringing in workers through a subcontractor. It prevented the workers from being represented by WAC at hearings, and suspended some of the union’s leaders following false allegations of violence. All these charges and allegations were refuted by the court, which reinstated the workers in their jobs.

At the same time as Maya directors threatened to hurt the livelihoods of unionized workers and refused to allow WAC’s representatives on factory premises, the company demonstrated a very sympathetic attitude to the Histadrut Leumit. It allowed representatives of the Histadrut to enter the factory, and company directors helped it to sign up employees to be members of this union. Contrary to the company’s claim that the process of unionization in Histadrut Leumit had begun before WAC stepped in, the verdict determined that the Histadrut Federation got involved with the plant only two weeks after WAC informed the company of its workers’ unionization. This raises the question of how did it happen that this union, which never showed any interest organizing Palestinian workers in the settlements, got to the factory to unionize the workers in the first place. The Court mentioned that Maya’s management continued to favor the Histadrut Leumit even after the latter decreed to the National Labor Court that it relinquishes any claim of representing the company’s workers, following WAC’s appeal to the Court as part of an inter-organizational dispute in mid-September.

The Court took serious issue with the fact that the company completely ignored all of WAC’s letters, and only deigned to respond after the organization appealed to the Labor Court following the unlawful dismissal of employees. As early as September 5, the court issued a temporary restraining order against the firing of employees, stating that there was ostensible evidence that the dismissal and suspension of workers were being carried out as reprisal for unionization.

Despite this warning issued to Maya Food Industries by the court in September, the company remained steadfast in its ways and continued to make things difficult for workers associated with WAC by delaying entry permits to the industrial zone to workers and vehicles, by making sudden changes in roles and shifts, and by firing additional workers. One of the women workers who had spoken openly about her support of WAC encountered heavy pressure to leave the organization, and then was transferred from work on the production line to toilet cleaning duty, toilets that were mainly used by men, a humiliating and offensive measure bordering on sexual harassment. In November and after the first appeal deliberations ended, WAC submitted another appeal to the court concerning this particular matter as well as several other cases of discrimination against WAC workers. This case will be up for discussion in the beginning of December in the Jerusalem Labor Court.

Justice Goldberg’s ruling is yet another pillar in the campaign WAC has been leading in recent years to allow Palestinian workers employed by Israeli companies in the occupied territories to come together and negotiate collective bargaining agreements. A previous groundbreaking verdict was made by the head of the Jerusalem Labor Court, Justice Eyal Abrahami, in February 2016, in the case of WAC vs. Tsarfati Garage. In that instance, the court similarly ruled that WAC was the representative organization in the company, and that the company must rehire the chairman of the workers’ committee who had been laid off a year and a half earlier. This ruling in 2016 led at the time to a change of heart from the company, and in February of 2017 WAC signed a first ever collective agreement for Palestinian workers in the settlements with Tsarfati Garage. In July 2019 WAC signed a second agreement in Mishor Adumim with a small metal factory called N.A. Metal Industries ltd. WAC can only hope that Maya Foods will study the verdict attentively and change its ways in the direction of negotiations in order to open a new page in its collective relations with WAC and with its own employees.

The determination exhibited by Maya Foods’ employees, in spite of all the difficulties and threats placed in their way, shows the vitality of the young Palestinian generation, who display courage, social solidarity between women and men, and exceptional openness in collaborating with WAC, which has both Arabs and Jews on its board. We are confident that Justice Goldberg’s clear-cut ruling will bolster the wave of unionization of Palestinian workers in the settlements.

  • Translated from the Hebrew by Avital Tsype

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