As the workers of the world, and the Palestinians, celebrated the First of May, Palestinian workers remained jobless as a result of the Israeli military procedures, attacks and checkpoints barring them from crossing in an attempt to gain their livelihood.
Amin Abu Warda – Palestine News Network, interviewed Mohammad Barghouthi, the Palestinian Minister of Labor;
Q: What are your plans for the development of the Palestinian economy and workers?
A: The Palestinian economy is very week, and is suffering continuous lapses resulting from the Israeli military procedures and closures.
We are talking here about ways to reduce the crises Palestinian workers are facing, we need comprehensive programs and immediate plans of action.
The unemployment program has deviated from its original path and became a relief program. We want this program to be a development program in order to help the unemployed workers instead of dealing with them as charitable cases.
We should also concentrate on smaller projects, especially on the agricultural sector since agriculture is one of the main sources of livelihood in the Palestinian territories.
As for the future, we have programs and plans that involves development programs that would help university graduates, in addition to agricultural development programs and encouraging the private investments in Palestine.
How do you plan to deal with unemployment in the Palestinian areas?
Unemployment is a worldwide problem, but in Palestine we have a special situation, and a continuously increasing number of unemployed residents as a result of Israel’s annexation wall, the continuous closures, and military violations.
Strong economy requires stability and investment in addition to local and international relations, but we don’t have anything, the Palestinian economy is destructed and the Palestinian areas are completely isolated from the rest of the world.
Our recent statistics showed that 200.000 residents are officially registered as unemployed, 400.000 other are registered as unemployed at the registration office of the ministry of labor.
The ministry, under the current circumstances, cannot solve the unemployment problem without the full cooperation of the private sector, the Arab and Islamic countries.
Q: There is a huge number of Palestinians who used to work inside Israel, what did the ministry do to help them, how do you relate to Palestinians who work in settlements and in Israel?
We have a branch in charge of the rights of the workers, and we face enormous difficulties in following all cases since the workers do not have fixed jobs, and Israeli employers are not recognizing the rights of the Palestinian workers, Israeli courts also do not defend the rights of the Palestinian workers.
Working in settlements and in Israel should be replaced by providing the workers with jobs in the Palestinian areas, but since the Palestinian Authority is unable to provide work for the residents, it cannot ask them to stop working in Israel or in the settlements.
Q: Would you be willing to coordinate with the Israeli Workers Union, or with the Israelis in general?
We repeatedly said that we have no problem with such a cooperation, but not if this means normalizing with the occupation.
Q: What about helping university graduates?
We were planning to provide the graduates with 10.000 job opportunities, but the situation is different now, and we have to private or governmental organizations that is capable of employing the graduates.
We also renewed the contracts of 760 temporal employees working as field coordinators and researchers.
The ministry also has 3000 students in vocational training, each period of time we have a similar number.
The Ministry of Education is required now to direct the students to the needed specialties.
Q: How do you evaluate the relation between your ministry and workers unions?
We deal with them in a straight and practical method, we hope to be able to unify the unions by approving a new law that would unify those unions in order to work together and help the workers in an efficient way.
Q: What are the main obstacles your ministry is facing?
We have a very difficult economic situation since many years, we also lack infrastructure after Israel damaged the Palestinian infrastructure throughout the years of the Intifada.
We need to implement laws that guarantee insurance, pension and the rights of the workers. We also need laws to govern the work of workers unions in order to support the rights of the workers.
There are many laws that have not been approved by the legislative council yet. We are in the fundamental stages of rebuilding out economy and laws.
Q: What do u think about the imported goods that are filling the Palestinian markets?
We have to balance between the interests of the people, and the employees; our economy is totally dependent on Israel, it still controls our economy, movements, and borders, in addition to its policy of isolation of the Palestinian territories.
Q: How far did you reach regarding the “Laborers Courts”?
Laborers Courts are a project which never saw the light, these courts are very important for the workers especially since normal courts could take years which will make the lawyer lose his rights as years pass by.
We have to enforce the law in order to guarantee the rights of the workers.
Q: How do you comment on the pressures practiced against the Palestinian government?
Our government has many problems, we are unable to pay the salaries of our employees, and to provide the residents with the needed services.
We will either succeed and prove to the world our capabilities in spite of the current situation, or we fail, but if we fail the whole world will know that we never betrayed our principles and steadfastness.
God willing, we will succeed with the help of our friends, brothers and our people. We will stand in steadfastness and face all of the challenges united and strong.