75 Palestinian employees of Yamit Filtration went on strike in November, after the company refused to negotiate on a collective agreement. Many of the strikers have been employed in the company for over 20 years in metalwork and engineering, but they get only the minimum wage despite seniority and skills. None has a pension fund and none receives convalescence pay.
A general meeting of the Yamit Filtration workers, held on Tuesday October 20, 2020, unanimously approved the declaration of a labor dispute and strike against the company. On that day, MAAN forwarded the formal notice of the dispute and strike to the Labor Relations Officer at the Ministry of Labor, and a copy was handed to management, giving notice that a strike would start after the 15-day waiting period required by law.
Yamit Filtration Ltd. ( http://www.yamit-f.com ) is a long-standing Israeli company that makes advanced water filters for agriculture, exporting them throughout the world. The plant is located in the Nitzanei Shalom industrial zone, which is located in a well-guarded, fenced area inside the Palestinian city of Tulkarm. The company employs 75 Palestinians from the area, among whom many have worked in the factory for over 20 years in professional metalwork and engineering jobs. Most receive minimum wage, despite their seniority and skills. None has a pension fund, and the factory does not provide convalescence pay.
In 2016, the plant signed an agreement with veteran workers that stipulated compensation for a previous period based on the Jordanian labor laws of 1966 – an absurdity in itself. However, it became clear to the workers that the company was not divulging where it had deposited the compensation money, and they worry that it may not have been deposited at all, or only in part.
Against the background of this uncertainty, plus insecurity about their terms of employment and the fear of dismissals without compensation or pension, the workers decided in January 2020 to join MAAN Workers Association. In February 2020 the company agreed to sit with the union, but since then it has refused to move forward toward a collective agreement.
In an effort to overcome obstacles MAAN suggested partial points to get things moving in the right direction, but time and again the company retreated from what had already been agreed upon. For example, it accepted the union’s demand to disclose the compensation accounts from 2016 and to start a pension scheme for the workers, but then it retreated on both.
The workers and MAAN have been patient and considerate, hoping the company would turn a new leaf, but such expectations have been repeatedly disappointed. In this situation, the only recourse was to declare a labor dispute.
The 4-day strike, accompanied by an announcement that workers will stop putting in extra hours, started as scheduled on November 4. On November 11, the union announced another 5-day strike. In response, the management brought new workers to the plant – a move forbidden by law. MAAN’s lawyer Aya Bartenstein appealed to the Jerusalem Labor Court on Thursday November 12 to stop the company from jeopardizing the strike action.
On Monday November 16, the two sides met in court, and the result was a mutually agreed decision that:
1. negotiations will start on January 21, 2021 and will be conducted in good faith once weekly;
2. the company will disclose the compensation funds to the union no later than Dec. 1, 2020 (a meeting was held accordingly and the company dislosed e account as required by the court)
3. the union will stop the strike action though will not be obliged to cancel the labor dispute;
4. the company will refrain from hiring new workers until the negotiations start, and in any case, it will not employ new workers without a clear and formal agreement by the union.
This court decision is viewed by the union and the workers as an important gain. Accordingly, the union is preparing to start negotiations in January, as agreed.
Khalil Shihab, a veteran employee at the factory and a member of the Workers’ Committee, explained the background of the strike and the reason why all employees support it: “We feel insecure about our working conditions, especially regarding the compensation and pension money that the company is hiding from us. We are united in our position and our support for MAAN, and we shall continue to fight until our rights are achieved, including the regulation of our wages and working conditions.”