The unemployment rate in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) has risen to the world’s highest level, at 27.4 per cent in 2017, says an annual report of the International Labour Organization (ILO), entitled The situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories .
Women and youth are particularly affected. Unemployment rates among Palestinian women are now approaching the 50 per cent mark, with rates for youth not far behind. “The absence of a political and diplomatic process on the basis of the Oslo Accords cements the occupation and impedes Palestinian development,” says ILO Director-General Guy Ryder in his preface to the report. “The Palestinian labour market has deteriorated to lows which should be a deep concern to all involved. It is plain to see that the absence of opportunity for young people drives them to desperation,” Ryder continues.
In Gaza, almost every second worker is unemployed and almost two thirds of women workers are jobless. The blockade has paralyzed much of the economic activity, and per capita incomes have fallen behind the levels of the early 1990s.
Developments in the labour market mirror the dismal economic situation and the constraints imposed by the occupation. In view of the severe lack of job opportunities, it is not surprising that a growing number of Palestinians, particularly the young, are disengaging from the labour market, the report says. Labour force participation rates in the OPT are among the lowest in the world.
The report submitted to the ILO’s International Labour Conference also details the multiple restrictions on economic activity arising from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. Most of the occupied land remains effectively off limits for Palestinians, settlement building is intensifying and East Jerusalem is cut off from the rest of the West Bank.
While confrontation is on the rise overall, the report also notes encouraging signs of cooperation with regard to work in Israel by Palestinians from the West Bank. Palestinian employment in the Israeli economy increased again in 2017, by more than 11 per cent from the previous year, boosted by additional permits issued by the Israeli authorities.
Some 131,000 Palestinians worked in Israel and the settlements in 2017, contributing to the livelihoods of some 650,000 people in the West Bank. The report notes with concern, however, that their work remains associated with high costs, vulnerabilities and hardship. Moreover, around half of all such workers with permits continue to pay exorbitant fees to brokers to obtain the necessary documents. The average cost amounts to a third of monthly wages and drains USD 187 million to 292 million each year from Palestinian wages earned in Israel and the settlements. What’s more, working conditions are often precarious, particularly for the more than 40,000 Palestinians working without a permit in both Israel and the settlements.
The reports calls for “improved governance and urgent reform” of the recruitment, placement and entry system for Palestinians working in Israel. Such an initiative would represent “a needed and welcome relief from which the Palestinian worker and the Israeli employer stand to benefit.”
In his report, the head of the ILO calls for dialogue and a joint search for solutions which “will effectively bring about decent work to the occupied Arab territories. The ILO and the international community as a whole have to remain fully engaged in this effort and faithful to their commitments.”
The findings of the report are based on a mission that involved in-depth discussions with key stakeholders and field visits to the occupied Arab territories and Israel in March of this year. Since 1980, the Director-General has been mandated to present an annual report to the International Labour Conference on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, including the occupied Syrian Golan.