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Palestinian workers might finally have labor courts to settle their cases

The Palestinian Labor Ministry has agreed with the UN International Labor Organization to help establish competent courts to rule on employment and labor-related matters and disputes.
A Palestinian labourer smokes a cigarette as he picks apples during a harvest in a field in the West Bank village of al-Faraa, near Nablus June 24, 2013. REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini (WEST BANK - Tags: SOCIETY AGRICULTURE BUSINESS) - GM1E96O1MHM01

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Palestinian Labor Minister Nasri Abu Jish announced May 12 in a statement to the local radio station Watan FM that his ministry has been discussing with the High Judicial Council the possibility of establishing labor courts to rule on employment and labor-related matters and disputes, and to train qualified judges with extensive experience to this effect.

Abu Jish said that there are thousands of cases that remain unresolved in civil courts and that the Ministry of Labor has discussed the issue with the UN International Labor Organization (ILO) that has agreed on training qualified judges to preside over these courts when and if they are established.

Shaher Saad, the secretary-general of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU), told Al-Monitor that the establishment of labor courts is a central demand to help workers and protect their rights and settle their grievances, especially women whose rights are violated, as they receive very low wages and sometimes aren't granted their end of service gratuity and leave salary.

“According to our information, the government has decided to establish these courts and is expected to announce its decision within a month,” he said.

Saad headed a PGFTU delegation that met May 18 with Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh. He noted that the ILO has announced its readiness to cooperate with the government to form these courts through the training of qualified judges.

The demand to establish labor courts is not something new. The Labor Ministry had previously submitted requests to the High Judicial Council, but to no avail.

Angham Saif, head of the Awareness and Guidance Department Section in the General Department for Inspection and Labor Protection at the Labor Ministry, told Al-Monitor that the ministry has been calling for the establishment of such courts since 2005 in a bid to better apply the Palestinian Labor Law.

Saif explained that the High Judicial Council has to outline the form and method of work of these courts and to appoint qualified judges to examine cases. She noted that the delay in the formation of these courts is because the council has been looking into their establishment for years now without taking any concrete decision in this regard.

She added that the establishment of labor courts requires special procedures, most importantly to expedite the litigation process and examine cases without any delay, which should be done separately from the civil courts.

Local courts are currently the competent authorities to settle employment-related matters and grievances, according to the same laws applied to civil cases. The litigation can drag on for years, forcing workers to reach compromises, mostly unfair to them, with their employers.

Saif added that the ministry has been calling on the council to establish these courts since 2005. She explained that the council has not been responsive because of issues related to the budgets allocated to it and the insufficient number of judges working in the judiciary.

The Labor Ministry is planning to make amendments to the labor law in the coming period. Saif explained that these amendments aim to further enhance the application of the law, noting that some amendments would clearly provide for the establishment of labor courts and result in an increase in the minimum wage, which currently stands at 1,450 Israeli shekels ($400).

She explained that the establishment of labor courts could “further promote the application of the law as it will encourage workers to go to court if any dispute arises with their employers, instead of trying to find compromises outside the framework of the judiciary.”

“The ILO is our strategic partner and its role will be to support us in logistics and training and to communicate with the Palestinian parties to lobby for the necessary procedures to this effect,” Saif added.

Thousands of employment-related cases have remained shelved in Palestinian courts. An official at the General Administration of Information Technology at High Judicial Council told Al-Monitor that the total number of labor cases pending is about 21,000. In 2018, there were 2,388 cases and only 1,987 were resolved. This year until May 19, there have been 950 cases, 896 of which have been examined so far.

Asaad al-Shnar, a judge and assistant secretary-general of the High Judicial Council, told Al-Monitor that the establishment of labor courts has always been an item for the Palestinian judiciary, but was difficult to implement given the lack of staff, including judges and staff. He noted that many sectors need specialized judges, such as the banking, economic and labor sectors.

Shnar said that the number of judges in the West Bank is 210, who, for instance, work at the court of corruption, the court of cassation, the court of appeal, the court of the first instance and the Supreme Court.

He added that the problem has been worsening because of the lack of funds allocated to the High Judicial Council, given the dire financial situation of the Palestinian Authority. “There are judges who have not been promoted for 10 years,” he said.

Shnar explained that as per Law No. 1 of 2002, the council was supposed to become a financially independent entity, i.e., preparing its own draft budget to be submitted for the Ministry of Justice to take the necessary legal actions. This law, however, remains unimplemented until today. Shnar said that the government allocates the budget to the council through the Ministry of Finance.

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