Human rights groups urge protection of Palestinian workers during COVID-19 pandemic

The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council and the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network sent today a joint open letter to the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the occasion of International Workers’ Day, urging the latter to take action to protect the rights, livelihoods, and dignity of Palestinian workers during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following is the full text of the letter:

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, trade unions, and individuals around the world, address this joint open letter to the International Labour Organization (ILO) on the occasion of International Workers’ Day, urging you to take action in the framework of your mandate to protect the rights, livelihoods, and dignity of Palestinian workers, women and men, and their families during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. The ILO Centenary Declaration for the Future of Work has confirmed the essential role that ILO, one hundred years since its creation, must play for the achievement of ‘social justice, democracy and the promotion of universal and lasting peace.’[i]

We welcome the ILO’s recent statement calling on governments around the world to take action to prevent and control the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace. As stressed by the ILO, ‘It is only by implementing occupational safety and health measures that we can protect the lives of workers, their families and the larger communities, ensure work continuity and economic survival.’[ii] We also welcome the ILO’s Palestinian Decent Work Programme, as a serious effort to enhance employment and livelihood opportunities and realise fundamental principles and rights at work for Palestinian women and men.[iii]

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated vulnerabilities linked to poverty, discrimination, conflict and occupation. In Palestine, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the forefront Israel’s regime of institutionalised racial domination and oppression over the Palestinian people as a whole, which amounts to the crime of apartheid.[iv] As highlighted in your latest 2019 report on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, ‘the Palestinians themselves have little scope to improve their destiny. The Israeli occupation is stifling in every respect, dominating almost every aspect of Palestinian life.’[v] Throughout the occupied Palestinian territory, the Israeli occupying authorities have continued to indiscriminately target Palestinians’ livelihoods during the COVID-19 pandemic, including through attacks on farmers, shepherds, and fishermen in the Gaza Strip.[vi]

During COVID-19, the susceptibility of Palestinian workers to the pandemic has been compounded, with the Israeli occupying authorities continuing to prioritize economic considerations over the inherent rights and dignity of Palestinian workers. With the start of the outbreak, the Israeli occupying authorities allowed approximately 60,000 Palestinian workers employed in Israel to temporarily reside in Israel for a maximum period of two months during the emergency situation, with Israeli employers mandated to ensure adequate housing, proper sanitation, and food for workers.[vii] Yet, workers have faced dire housing conditions, forced to sleep at construction sites or in greenhouses,[viii] while Palestinian workers displaying symptoms of the flu have been thrown at checkpoints without coordination to ensure they would receive treatment.[ix] At the same time, Israel has refused to test Palestinian workers for COVID-19, thereby failing to take adequate measures to curb the spread of the pandemic in the occupied Palestinian territory and undermined containment and mitigation efforts by the Palestinian Authority for returning workers. The Palestinian Health Ministry has found that workers, their families, and their contacts make up a majority of COVID-19 infections in the West Bank.[x]

“As we commemorate International Workers’ Day and the achievements in advancing labour rights across the globe, Palestinian workers employed in Israel and in illegal Israeli settlements continue to endure dire working conditions, receive lower wages than their Israeli counterparts, and are denied access to healthcare and other benefits, amongst other discriminatory policies and practices of the Israeli occupation.[xi] In particular, the Israeli construction sector, which is dominated by Palestinian workers from both sides of the Green Line and which has continued as an ‘essential service’ during COVID-19, is considered to be one of the most dangerous sectors for work-related accidents, as it lacks the necessary supervision by the Israeli government, whose responsibility it is to ensure that employers uphold Palestinian workers’ rights.

“As highlighted by the ILO, COVID-19 has exposed the fragility of economies across the globe, with the pandemic having the potential ‘in the longer-term [to] dramatically amplify cycles of poverty and inequality.’[xiii] It is therefore more urgent than ever to address the prolonged denial of the individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people as the root cause depriving Palestinians of an adequate standard of living, including the right to work. Notably, United Nations Special Rapporteurs have recalled Israel’s legal duty to ensure that Palestinians receive essential health services,[xiv] expressed concerns over Israel impeding efforts to effectively control and mitigate the impacts of COVID-19, and called for equal access to treatment and testing without discrimination.

Accordingly, we the undersigned civil society organisations, trade unions, and individuals call on you today, as Director-General of the ILO, to:

Send an urgent letter to the Minister of Labour and Minister of Health in Israel, calling on the Israeli occupying authorities to urgently provide Palestinian workers with their three months’ wages during the emergency period, as per Israeli labour law; to take all necessary measures, including with employers, to guarantee healthcare coverage for Palestinian workers during and in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic; to provide Palestinian workers staying in Israel with adequate housing, food, water, and sanitation, as essential to upholding their rights and mitigating the effects of COVID-19 amongst workers and their families upon return; and
Invite the 109th session of the International Labour Conference to hold Israel, the occupying power, accountable for its violation of Palestinian workers’ rights through the adequate supervision of the Committee of Experts to implement the recommendations of the report on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories and for the enforcement of the conventions it has ratified.
Yours sincerely,


The Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC), comprising:

Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights
Al-Haq – Law in the Service of Mankind
Aldameer Association for Human Rights
Defense for Children International (DCI) – Palestine
Hurryyat – Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights
Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center (JLAC)
Muwatin Institute for Democracy and Human Rights – Observer Member
Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR)
Ramallah Center for Human Rights Studies (RCHRS)
The Independent Commission for Human Rights (Ombudsman Office) – Observer Member
The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network (PNGO), comprising:

Agricultural Development Association (PARC)
Alrowwad Cultural and Arts Society
Arab Center for Agricultural Development
Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center (DWRC)
Early Childhood Resource Center (ECRC)
Health Work Committees (HWC)
Human Rights and Democracy Media Center – SHAMS
Land Research Center (LRC)
Ma’an Development Center
Musawa – The Palestinian Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession
Palestinian Center for Democracy and Conflict Resolution (PCDCR)
Palestinian Center for Peace and Democracy (PCPD)
Palestinian Family Planning and Protection Association
Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS)
Palestinian Women’s Development Society (PWDS)
Palestinian Working Women Society for Development (PWWSD)
Psycho-Social Counselling Center for Women (PSCCW)
Sareyyet Ramallah
Tamer Institute for Community Education
Teacher Creativity Center
The Palestinian Businesswomen’s Association – ASALA
Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC)
Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC)
Union of Palestinian Women’s Committees (UPWC)
Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC)
Women’s Studies Centre
Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) – Palestine
Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) – Ramallah

Asociación Alnakba, Venezuela
Asociación Árabe Guatemalteca
Asociación Comunidad Palestina, Guatemala
Asociación Salvadoreña Palestina
Association Belgo-Palestinienne (ABP)
Association France-Palestine Solidarité (AFPS)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Cine Fértil, Argentina
Comunidad Colombo Palestina
Comunidad Palestina de Chile
Fundación Cultural Colombo Palestina
Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network
Instituto Brasil Palestina (IBRASPAL)
Juventud Chileno-Árabe por Palestina de Valdivia
Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l’Amitié entre les Peuples (MRAP)
Mouvement International de la Réconciliation (MIR)
Organización Solidaria con Palestina (OSP-Chile)
Plateforme des ONG françaises pour la Palestine
The Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD)
The Palestinian National Institute for NGOs (PNIN)
Unión Árabe de Cuba
Unión General de Estudiantes Palestinos (UGEP-Chile)
Unión Palestina de América Latina (UPAL)
Youth Development Association (YDA)

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