RAMALLAH (ILO News) – ILO Director-General Guy Ryder has concluded a three-day official visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), the first such visit by an ILO Director-General in 20 years.
During the visit, Ryder oversaw a signing ceremony at which the ILO and government, employer and worker representatives pledged to continue work to promote decent work in the Occupied Palestinian Territory through a new Palestinian Decent Work Programme.
The Programme “represents the commitment of the International Labour Organization to continue the work we have been doing together for a number of years, and we have impressive achievements to show for that work,” Ryder said at a press conference at the Palestinian Ministry of Labour in Ramallah on Saturday.
“It also reflects a need to consolidate and reinforce the cooperation between my Organization and the Palestinian Government, workers and employers,” he said.
The ILO has “spent nearly 100 years fighting for social justice around the world, and we have a particular responsibility to carry forward all of that work here in Palestine,” Ryder concluded.
Strengthening decent work for Palestinians
ILO Regional Director for Arab States Ruba Jaradat, who accompanied Ryder throughout the visit, explained that the Programme sets the framework for joint ILO-Palestinian work from 2018-2022. It prioritizes promoting employment and livelihoods, strengthening labour market governance and labour rights, and increasing social security and social protection. The first Palestinian Decent Work Programme ran from 2013-2017.
“These three priorities stem from national priorities set by our tripartite partners – employers, workers and the government,” Jaradat said.
She said the new Programme is aligned with the Palestinian National Policy Agenda 2017-22, and builds on key achievements of previous and ongoing ILO work in the OPT.
Palestinian Minister of Labour Mamoun Abu Shala said the new Programme “crowns a relationship of many years with the International Labour Organization, which benefits our country and our people.”
The agreement to implement the second Palestinian Decent Work Programme was signed by Regional Director Jaradat, Minister Abu Shahla, Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU) Secretary-General Shaher Saad, and Chairman of the Palestinian Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture Khalil Rizk.
Meeting the President and social partners
Ryder began his visit with a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday.
The ILO Director-General’s visit included meetings with the Minister of Labour Mamoun Abu Shahla, Foreign Minister Riad Malki and other government officials, as well as with PGFTU Secretary-General Shaher Saad, and PFCCIA Chairman Khalil Rizk.
Discussions with government and social partners centered on challenges facing the Palestinian Territory labour market, and means of strengthening ILO support to the Palestinian Authority and to Palestinian worker and employer representatives in order to promote decent work in the Palestinian Territory.
Ryder also meet with UN Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov and other senior UN officials.
Improving Social Security
Director General Ryder and Regional Director Jaradat also officially opened the Palestinian Social Security Corporation (PSSC) at the PSSC office in Ramallah.
The PSSC is legally charged by the new Palestinian Social Security Law to administer the Palestinian Territory’s first comprehensive social security system to cover all private sector workers and their family members. The system was developed with strong support from the ILO over a number of years.
“The new law and the Corporation embody a huge step forward for workers and employers in Palestine,” said PFCCIA Chairman Khalil rizk.
“We consider that social security is a core element of social justice, and helps safeguard the basic rights of Palestinian workers,” said PGFTU Secretary-General Shaher Saad.
Today, only public sector workers benefit from social protection benefits in the OPT, home to 4.8 million Palestinians, while most private sector workers are effectively not covered in case of old-age, disability or death, employment injury or maternity. According to official figures, private sector workers make up to 53 per cent of the workforce, relative to 31 per cent in the public sector, and 16 per cent working in Israel and West Bank settlements.
The PSSC will implement the new Social Security Law, and administer and deliver social insurance benefits to insured workers and their family members. It is overseen by a Board of Directors which is chaired by the Minister of Labour and includes government, worker and employer representatives.
Establishment of the Corporation is financed by an ILO Development Cooperation project which is funded by the governments of Kuwait and Qatar.
Unique labour market and economic challenges
The situation in the OPT continues to be marked by the entrenched occupation, a stalled peace process, persistent political instability, and a worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Such conditions continue to strain the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, limiting access to economic opportunities and decent work. The economic situation continues to be characterised by high levels of unemployment, underemployment and inequality.
A sudden decline in total donor support and non-fulfillment of 2014 pledges for the reconstruction of Gaza have also decelerated reconstruction activities and with it economic recovery.
The Palestinian private sector remains hobbled by the occupation, dampening the investment climate, and encouraging the de-development of many sectors of the economy.