April 2020 Newsletter
|April 2020 Newsletter #fightcovid-19 #defendworkersrights WAC MAAN intensifies its work among Palestinian workers facing the threat of Covid-19 |
First of all, we hope you are all healthy! The COVID-19 shows us once again, how fragile we are as humanity and how global the world is. No doubt this is also a time of test to our strength to overcome this crisis. While we at WAC are taking all the necessary measures to be safe and healthy and follow the directives of social distancing, we are doing our best and more to make sure that no one is left behind.
Our staff, activists and many volunteers – lead by the workers committees in each company and workplace – is doing its best to serve WAC’s members and community at large and to help everybody adjust to the new situation. The ones hit most are Palestinian workers from East Jerusalem (EJ) and the West Bank (WB) who work in Israel or Area C regions. It is here that WAC is investing right now a great part of its resources to face up to the challenge of the pandemic.
Inside Israel, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the economy very hard. Almost a million workers were dismissed or sent on a Vacation with No Pay (VNP) or had to accept a reduction in salary. Also among Israeli workers who are organized with WAC, we had to deal with complicated situations relating to staff cuts.
It is important to note that the current crisis amplifies the inseparable joint destiny of Israelis and Palestinians strengthening the vision of both people living in equality under a shared political roof, which will respect human rights and be built on a new basis of a Green economy for all. We recommend you to read the article “Who will annex Palestinian health” and follow Challenge online Magazine website that covers the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
Following is a report on the work done by WAC in these days. In spite of the shutdown, our work has intensified. Do not hesitate to write to us. In addition, you are more than welcome to visit the WAC-MAAN website in WAC-MAAN ENGLISH and FB page and register\like it. We would be happy if you would share this newsletter with colleagues and friends in the union movement and beyond.
Warm regards to you
Phone \ WhatsApp +972-50-4330034
Palestinian workers in Area C or Israel – between a rock and a hard place
A critical area we are working on concerns workers commuting into Israel or Area C. Unlike Israeli citizens, Palestinian workers who are laid off have no social benefits. Even hotel workers who have worked for years in Israel and sent home because of the crisis are not entitled to any compensation. This puts them in a very vulnerable situation with no money for putting food on the table. The same goes for agriculture and construction workers.
Since the second half of March, the Israeli Authorities and the Palestinian Authority agreed on arrangements to stop the movement of workers from the PA areas to Israel and back. To allow important industries that rely on Palestinian workers the two sides agreed to enable about 50,000 Palestinian workers to stay for a prolonged period in Israel and the industrial zones of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The PA the Prime Minister, Mohammad Shtayyeh, said that Palestinian workers who crossed into Israel would sleep in their work places for at least several weeks, and those who return to the West Bank would have to go into isolation. Many workers are at loss not knowing what to do. Many have decided to enter Israel and stay there. On this issue see our news brief from March 27th “Commuting to Israel in Times of Corona“ At WAC, we are getting hundreds of messages on FB and on the phone from workers who are asking for advice. WAC is looking, together with the workers’ rights association Kav Laoved for suggesting an emergency fund. There are funds – 515 million NIS, deducted over the years from Israeli employers for Palestinian workers and saved in an Israeli fund, designated to cover the expenses of Palestinian workers who were sick and lost the ability to work. As almost nothing had been paid to workers, the accumulated sum reached huge proportions. As early as 2016, Kav Laoved and ACRI have appealed to the high court about the 515 M.NIS. Now, with WAC’s help and workers’ affidavits collected by WAC a new appeal was filed to the Supreme Court of Justice on 29.3 demanding that at least 297 M.NIS will be allocated to Palestinian workers who lost their job because of the COVID-19. See article “Palestinians worry about expenses as virus blocks work in Israel“
As for those workers WAC is organizing, currently we are following closely each workplace regarding its situation. For those workers who are sleeping in the work places we are monitoring this process health wise. Some workplaces have shut down so we are attending to the workers’ rights there.
In short, we are following the situation very closely, trying to give the best solutions possible in these erratic days. WAC team is convinced that Palestinian Workers, fighting in a responsible way for their livelihood will prevail under this unprecedented crisis. By working together in solidarity and coordination, we can ensure that workers’ rights are respected, and come through this crisis even stronger.
WAC Operates a Hotline for unemployed workers in East Jerusalem
Most of WAC’s legal and paralegal work in East Jerusalem through March and April was transformed into an emergency mode. Tens of thousands of jobless and workers in EJ, especially women, were in need of advice about how to continue receiving social benefits, or if they were sent home, how to apply for Unemployment Benefits (UB). The lack of information in Arabic and the lack of forms in Arabic, especially in the website of the Employment Bureau (EB), created a lot of fear and uncertainty.
WAC had adapted itself to the new circumstances when it replaced its office hours and its physical reception to a hotline of advice and help on phone or via its WhatsApp service. As we publicize a service that is given, free of charge we started to get an average of 60 calls a day. Our office was able to mobilize a group of dedicated volunteers to help the 3 office staff members in this demanding job. The advice and help in filling the forms is being given in Hebrew and Arabic according to the needs of the applicant.
As early as 17.3, we circulated on Facebook and WhatsApp a detailed letter to all people in need of the EB and the National Insurance Institute (NII). The letter gave information about what to do in light of the new situation and how to use the websites of the EB and NII in order to preserve rights or claim them in new cases.
See article: Israel Ramps Up Coronavirus Testing in Arab Cities Where Infection Rate Relatively Low, where WAC is mentioned among many other organizations working to mitigate damage to households.
According to the new state regulations, if a worker was sent on Vacation with No Pay (VNP), he/she can claim the money from the NII by presenting the letter given to them by the employer. WAC together with ACRI wrote a letter to the EB asking it to produce the forms in Arabic. We were also in contact with officials of the EJ EB Bureau in an effort to mitigate problems and so far, the cooperation has been useful.
WAC’s Facebook page plays a key role in our effort to get information out. Since mid-March, WAC published several posts with information for EJ residents and for Palestinian workers who work in Israel and the settlements and we got between 40-110 thousands views thousands of “likes” and tens of remarks and shares. Hundreds have approached us with questions and requests of advice.
Employees in education associations including Art and music teachers and civil society organizations turn to WAC for advice
Between the almost one million Israeli citizens who were sent in a short period to VNP or dismissed altogether from their jobs were many employees who are organized with WAC. These include teachers on different levels, kindergarten educators and employees of civil society associations who are organized with WAC and represent an important part of the union’s membership.
In many education institutions – especially where it was impossible to implement teaching through the net – employees were sent on VNP for a month or more. Many others who are not teaching – guides, administrative staff etc. (teacher in primary schools and high schools were exempted from any cut in salary through Government commitment to continue pay their full salary) were asked to give up 5-20% of their salary to help overcome the crisis facing the organization they work for.
In recent years WAC was able to organize and sign collective agreements in several work places including the bilingual education association Hand in hand, Musrara Art College, Rosh Hay’in Music Centre, the leading human rights association B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights and Hotline for Migrants & Refugees and many others.
Many of these institutions are upholding human, cultural and political ideas that their employees share. On this background and after listening to the different workers committees in these institutions it was decided to accept the emergency steps taken by the managers \ boards of these schools and associations while raising ideas on how to mitigate the loss of salary by employees.
In addition, our Hotline for unemployed that started to work in EJ including the manual we wrote for people who were put on VNP served as a guide to other of our members who find it difficult to overcome the bureaucracy and get their rights in the best way. Some of the employees of Hand in Hand who were sent on VNP joined our staff of volunteers after they themselves made the necessary steps to register and get what they deserve from the NII.
Arab women turn to hydroponic farming – a joint project of WAC and our sister fair trade association Sindyanna of Galilee “One good thing we can do now that we are spending so much time at home is start our own Hydroponic garden”. This is what Suheir Kana’ane from Kufr Q’ara – an Arab town in central Israel – did. Recently she joined a project of WAC and Sindyanna of Galilee that aims to promote hydroponic farming among women in Arab towns of the Triangle.
This one minute #StayHomeLiveFair video highlights the project. The concept of hydroponic gardening has gained a lot of interest lately. The way we used to live and consume will surely have to change, and with organic lettuce, celery, mint and parsley growing on our balconies, we can improve our family’s nutrition, while becoming part of the green revolution!
We want to urge you to enter the website of Sindyanna and check its unique farm products from Sindyanna’s Online Shop, if you live in the US, Canada or Israel, go to our Amazon stores.
Visit WAC-MAAN website in WAC-MAAN ENGLISH and FB page and register\like it.
Finally, we extend to you our solidarity and wish you all good health. Together we shall prevail!
The WAC team