Pay deal ends strike by UN Palestinian agency workers in Jordan

Classes were ccanceled for about 1,200 students. (Reuters/Muhammad Hamed)
Updated 03 November 2019

Pay deal ends strike by UN Palestinian agency workers in Jordan

  • Thousands of staff have begun an open-ended strike
  • Workers are demanding raises of about $140 a month

AMMAN: An agreement was reached to end a strike in Jordan by employees of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, hours after the walkout began Sunday, Amman's top diplomat and a trade union leader said.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi announced the deal with UNRWA employees, involving salary rises of between 70 and 100 Jordanian dinars (88 to 126 euros) per month from January, at a late afternoon news conference with union representatives.
"Consequently, it has been decided to put an end to the strike," said Riyadh Zyghan, leader of the UNRWA employees' union in Jordan.
More than two million Palestinians are registered in Jordan as refugees with UNRWA, which provides everything from healthcare to schooling.
Around 7,000 workers had joined the strike, forcing a shutdown of agency facilities, according to UNRWA spokesman in Jordan Sami Mshamsha.
Mshamsha said the union demanded a salary increase of 200 Jordanian dinars, but agreed to ask for half that amount following negotiations with UNRWA.
The union of UNRWA workers had said the action would be "open-ended" and had told pupils and students they should stay at home.
The strike came as the agency faces an unprecedented financial crisis.
In 2018, the United States suspended and later cut all its funding for UNRWA, causing a shortfall that threatened to close its schools and hospitals.
Those woes were compounded by allegations of abuse by the agency's management, leading other key donors -- the Netherlands and Switzerland -- to snap shut their purses.
In June UNRWA commissioner general Pierre Krahenbuhl told a news conference in Amman that the agency faced an expected $211 million shortfall in funding for 2019, and called on donors to fill the gap.
The agency runs 169 schools in the kingdom, serving some 120,000 students, as well as a faculty of science and educational arts, 25 primary healthcare centres and other services.
UNRWA was set up in 1949 after more than 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel's creation the previous year.
It provides vital schooling and medical services to some five million Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem.


Abbas poll decree lifts hopes of Palestinian unity

Updated 52 min 50 sec ago

Abbas poll decree lifts hopes of Palestinian unity

  • First elections in 15 years “will usher in badly needed democracy”
  • The PA will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31

AMMAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s announcement of the first parliamentary and presidential elections in 15 years has raised hopes of an end to longstanding divisions, but skeptics doubt it will bring about serious change.
According to decrees issued by the presidential office on Friday, the Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.
Hanna Naser, head of the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, told a packed press conference a day earlier that the decrees will usher in a badly needed democratic process.
Naser said the elections will be transparent and will deliver a functioning legislative council, adding: “After 15 years without a legislative body, it is important to have accountability through a council elected by the people.”
Jibril Rajoub, secretary of the Fatah movement and a key force behind the election deal, said on Palestine TV that the decrees are a major breakthrough and reflect a Palestinian commitment to democratic principles.
Rajoub said that the elections commission will be responsible for all aspects of the poll, and that a meeting of all Palestinian factions next week in Cairo will help resolve any remaining issues.
Hussein Sheikh, minister of civil affairs and member of the Fatah Central Committee, tweeted that the presidential decrees are “an important step to strengthen democracy and partnership in a unified political regime that ensures the end of the split and will create a unified vision for a cooperative effort aimed at ending the occupation and accomplishing freedom and liberty for our people.”
Hamas welcomed the decrees, which include a commitment by all participants that the PLO represents Palestinians, and is responsible for foreign affairs and negotiations.
The decrees stipulate elections for a 132-member legislative council that will include Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on a full proportional basis.
Presidential elections will follow in July and the Palestine National Council will hold elections wherever possible for candidates in different locations. All lists must have a woman as the third and fourth candidates on the list, with at least 26 percent of the next council to be female.
However, Ghassan Khatib, a lecturer at Bir Zeit University and a former minister, told Arab News that while he strongly supports the elections, he is worried about the quality of the poll.
“I am concerned that the elections will reflect the wishes of the political elite since the lists will be national and will be made up by political leaders who might not give enough attention to local communities and their needs,” he said.
Khatib, who founded the Jerusalem Center for Communication Studies, said that polls show Fatah could win the coming elections if it can present a unified list.
Hani Masri, director of the Masarat think tank, said that holding elections before national reconciliation is complete is a “formula for trouble.”
“Issuing presidential decrees for elections before reconciliation is doing things in reverse order,” he said. “To have elections, the land mines must be removed. If we don’t address some of these problems, we are inviting trouble,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
One suggestion to overcome this issue has been that the two main parties, Fatah and Hamas, agree on a joint list and a single nominee for president.
Marwan Muasher, vice president of Carnegie Endowment for International Studies, told Arab News that national unity is a necessary first step.
“National elections serve to renew Palestinian legitimacy, which has been significantly affected,” he said.
Palestinians are also unsure if Israel will allow East Jerusalem residents to take part in the elections. Under the Oslo accords, Jerusalem residents can vote at local post offices.