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Slim prospects in Gaza force college grads to work as deliverymen

The poor economic situation in the Gaza Strip has taken a toll on the opportunities available for holders of university degrees, some of whom are now working as deliverymen to get by.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Jobs are limited in the Gaza Strip, which is why some college grads wind up working in fast food — a really fast, and really risky business. They deliver food and other products, zipping through streets on motorbikes with baskets strapped to the back.

Mohammad al-Madani, vice president of Yamama delivery company, employs 40 deliverymen and 15 other workers. He told Al-Monitor that most of the deliverymen hold university degrees or are university students who joined the company due to tough living conditions in the Gaza Strip and the lack of job opportunities.

Yamama President Khalil al-Frangi developed the idea of a delivery company while studying in Jordan. Upon his return to Gaza, Frangi launched the project in May 2010 with $3,000 and two staff members, according to Madani. Yamama delivers relatively small freight such as food, papers and medicine, and bigger objects such as furniture and home appliances.

The company averaged 15 to 20 customers during its first year, Madani said. That number has now reached 15,000 customers and 500 orders per day. According to Frangi, business is still increasing, mainly because of Yamama's quick delivery and low fees, which range from $1.50 to $2 inside Gaza City and $10 in regions farther away. Also, some of Yamama's competitors have gone out of business. Despite rising demand for such services in the Gaza Strip over the past few years, about half of the 20 delivery businesses that operated there in 2014 closed their doors just in the past three months.

Al-Tayer (Like the Wind), a logistics support and delivery service, requires each deliveryman to have a high school degree, a motorbike and a driver's license. But most of the 18 people who work there as deliverymen or managers have college degrees. They simply could not find other jobs after graduating. Manager Mohamad Abu Halima told Al-Monitor his company has become popular, despite having only opened in January. He declined to disclose how many customers he serves.

Mazen Aouda, who has a degree in accounting from Al-Aqsa University in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor he became a deliveryman at Yamama because of the lack of job opportunities in Gaza. After graduating, he spent months trying to find a job in his field, to no avail. Aouda said he makes 30-50 shekels a day ($8-13.50), which is a reasonable amount by Gaza standards, but he worries because the company does not offer health insurance.

“If any of us have an accident on the job, the company neither covers our treatment nor compensates us,” Aouda said.

Madani said Yamama has repeatedly tried to negotiate with insurance companies in the Gaza Strip for employee coverage, but is always turned down, as insurance providers consider riding a motorbike hazardous. Some other delivery companies in Gaza have had similar problems obtaining insurance. Madani said Yamama soon will be installing a GPS system on each motorbike to monitor the driving speed and warn the driver if he exceeds the limit. The GPS also would allow the company to know employees' whereabouts while on the job.

Hasan Mohamad said he had to leave college and work at a delivery company because he could no longer afford to pay tuition. He also had to help his family with household expenses.

Deliverymen work eight-hour days, "but we have to work overtime for six hours sometimes to make more money,” Mohamad said. He also worries about having no medical coverage, given the risks involved in the job.

Abdullah Abu Rwaida, general director for the Companies Registry at the Ministry of Economy in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “These companies primarily seek profit. Hiring degree holders or unemployed people comes as a second priority.” Nevertheless, the companies offer a needed service at prices lower than those charged by delivery companies relying on cars. Abu Rwaida noted that many companies are not licensed.

Omar Shaban, an economist and the director of Pal-Think for Strategic Studies in Gaza, indicated some delivery companies were established a few years ago and classified as a new type of profitable trade. “However, their ability to create job opportunities is still limited,” he told Al-Monitor.

Shaban added, "These companies are good at providing services to the people and quickly catering to their needs. However, the Gaza Strip market cannot accommodate any more [delivery] companies because it is geographically small” (about 139 square miles).

He underlined that the services of these companies are also limited; most of them focus on delivering food to people who work late. Some of the companies, however, also provide an alternative for official postal services in provinces, delivering invitations and letters.

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