The impact of the occupation and pandemic on Palestinian workers

Social and Economic Policies Monitor (Al Marsad)

SDGs have focused on 17 goals that the UN, with its arms and various international institutions, sought to achieve. The aspirations to achieve this were optimistic, knowing that the world had faced many difficulties before 2020 in seeking to achieve these goals, until the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 came to double the burdens for governments and international bodies. In fact, the Covid-19 pandemic revealed the fragility of the global economy, and absence of the concept of “food security” in most countries. This has resulted from the disruption of international trade for months. Consequently, the poor and the most marginalized countries suffered from huge economic and social effects, as these countries were mainly suffering from high rates of poverty, unemployment, malnutrition, absence of good health systems, and absence of effective social justice policies on the ground.

The reality becomes even more complex, in the context of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, which is subject to the policies of the Israeli occupation that continue to rob Palestinian resources, confiscate land and control movement, crossings, imports and exports. Nonetheless, but the impact of the Israeli occupation is much greater, as it affects individuals and acts for displacing them from their homes, arrest them and killing them, under false security pretexts, which makes achieving development an impossible mission under occupation. In addition, the poor ability of the Palestinian government to adopt and implement real policies on the ground to empower the steadfastness of Palestinian society under the Israeli occupation.

Here we address labor policies, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The report discusses how the Palestinian parties dealt with the issue of workers, following the outbreak of Covid-19 virus in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In fact, this has directly reflected in increasing the gap and undermined the possibility of achieving the SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth), which is directly reflected in the rest of SDGs, such as the SDG 2 (eradicating hunger) and SDG 3 (Good health and well-being), in addition to SDG 10 (Reducing inequalities).

The spread of the Covid-19 virus and the Palestinian workers

With the spread of the Covid-19 virus around the world, governments in all countries of the world have taken measures to protect their citizens from the virus infection. Countries closed travel worldwide, as the global trade market suffered the effects of the pandemic with a significant decline in production, as did the economy around the world. Governments, specifically in “third world” countries, have also followed strict measures related to the freedom of movement of individuals in cities and suburbs. The measures necessitated the closure of cities in whole or in part, according to the indicator of the virus spread.

The complete or partial lockdown measures around the world affected nearly 2.7 billion workers, representing about 81% of the world’s workforce, as the International Labor Organization estimates indicated that, as of April 1, 2020, working hours decreased by 6.7%, in the second quarter of 2020, which is equivalent to 195 million full-time workers1. This, in turn, will affect male and female workers in different sectors, and will increase the cases of exploitation and the erosion of labor rights in light of the increase in unemployment rates and the accompanying poverty, especially in developing countries, especially among the most marginalized groups and workers in the informal sector. The impact of this had its tremendous effect on workers and work in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on workers and the labor market was evident, as it had ramifications on the most marginalized groups, such as women in the private sector, where the number of women working in the private sector decreased from 109,000 women in 2019 to about 98,000 women in 2020. Additionally, as for the waged workers in the private sector who work without employment contract, about 70,000 waged employees in the private sector work without such contract2. Unorganized workers constitute informal employment in addition to waged employees, who do not obtain any of the rights in the labor market, whether end-of-service/retirement benefits, paid annual leave, or paid sick leave constituted 62% of the workers, of whom 66% in the West Bank and 51% in the Gaza Strip3.

The impact was also evident on the youth group (19-29 years)4, knowing that before Covid-19, they were the group that suffered the most from unemployment, (39%), an issue that is dealt with within the framework of employment policies, not directly with labor policies. Nonetheless, we can see impact on the youth group in many cases. There are still 334,000 unemployed people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the total under-recruitment increased from about 33% in 2019 to about 36% in 2020, (about 534,000 people). This number includes about 111 thousand of frustrated job seekers and about 16,000 of underemployed are time-related5. In the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there are about 955,000 workers, and the private sector is the most employed sector in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (54%)6. We can say that the private sector is an excellent entry point to understanding labor policies, since it is the largest employing sector, at the same time it was the most affected by the pandemic, as the number of workers in this sector decreased by 38,000 workers, between 2019 and 2020. 7

A structural crisis exposed violations of labor rights

At the beginning of the pandemic8, the Palestinian government estimated the cost of its plan to confront Covid-19 at 137 million dollars, following the partial and total lockdowns in the entire West Bank, and then Gaza, since March 2020. It must be noted that the most affected economic facilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip were micro-enterprises, as these enterprises constitute 90% of the enterprises (employing 1-4 workers), while only 1% of the enterprises that are large enterprises (employing 20 or more workers). Additionally, 88% of all establishments are of individual ownership, therefore, there is fragility and there is a direct impact on all activities regardless of the nature of their activity9. This automatically affects the workers and their work in these facilities. In addition, there is a large percentage of workers working within the informal (unorganized) framework, who, basically, do not have any rights, guaranteed within the framework of the labor law, due to their irregularity in the formal labor market. The number of workers in the informal sector has reached about 410 thousand workers, including 373 thousand male workers, compared to about 37 thousand females. The percentage of workers in this sector represents about 43% of the total workers in Palestine, with an average daily wage of 143 shekels (about 43 dollars) 10.

With the absence of labor and social protection funds, and the absence of social security, the Palestinian government resolved to establish the "Waqfet Ezz Fund", which was established on April 2, 2020 with decision of the Prime Minister, consisting of many Palestinian personalities in the private sector. A commission Independent businessmen from the Palestinian private sector managed the fund and received assistance from specialized bodies that formed the administrative team of the Fund. The fund sought to assist three main affected sectors, namely, the thousands of Palestinian vulnerable families because of the crisis, workers who lost their means of livelihood and sources of income from day laborers and seasonal workers, in addition to supporting the needs of the Palestinian health sector, in terms of medicines, devices and medical equipment11.

The total donations to the fund amounted to approximately 12 million Jordanian dinars, as of May 11, 2020, out of 20 million dinars as a goal that the fund sought to achieve. The fund failed to achieve the announced goals. The experience with “Waqfat Izz” fund revealed that there is no alternative to having an effective social protection system, and there is no alternative to ​​social security, as Palestinian capital and the private sector refrained from playing a role in overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic crisis. This is mainly because the fund came in a voluntary nature, and repeated appeals and calls by NGOs to companies to donate, yet, the most profitable companies in the private sector ignored the call to donate 10% of its annual profits once the fund is established. In addition, major companies and businessmen hesitated to donate to the fund, and this was reflected in the amount of the few donations, when compared to the profits of some companies.

The continuation of the occupation and its colonial policies are among the main issues undermining the lives of the Palestinians and depriving them of freedom, progress and prosperity. Nonetheless, there must be solutions for the resilience of the Palestinian people under occupation in order to continue their struggle and their quest for freedom and independence, as there is still a clear absence of social security and protection funds within the functioning system of the Palestinian Authority. Employment and labor policies suffer from a real structural crisis, as there is no control over workers and the reality of their work in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip. Additionally, although the occupation impedes the work of the Palestinian Authority in carrying out its tasks, this does not mean that we lose sight of greater rights of a segment of Palestinian society that are the workers. In addition, the labor unions in the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip need real activation to ensure protection of workers. These unions mainly related to the Palestinian political system, and should undergo reform in a democratic manner that reflects the aspirations of the workers.

The Covid-19 pandemic revealed the complete absence of a labor union body that protects workers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Labor unions were unable to lobby for solutions and for the crisis that accompanied violations of labor rights, in terms of obligating the competent authorities such as the Ministry of Labor and employers to reach an equitable agreement on the rights of workers during the pandemic period, in such a way that guarantees the continuation of salaries’ payment. The three parties, namely the Ministry of Labor, trade unions and the private sector (employers) signed an agreement, representing the three of them, but the agreement was not binding, thus not implemented, despite its violation of the Palestinian Labor Law. Many workers suffered violation of their rights, as thousands of them dismissed, and on the other hand, the weakness of the Palestinian Ministry of Labor was visible in obliging the private sector to implement the agreement. This requires the restoration of the Palestinian trade unions and reforming them into effective union bodies that protect workers, at a time when it was found that the unions' structural weakness was met with arrogance and dominance of Palestinian capital.


1 International Labour Organization. “COVID-19 and the world of work”. Second edition, Updated estimates and analysis. 7 April 2020. Please check the following link:

2 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. "Dr. Awad, reviews the labor reality in Palestine for 2020 on the occasion of International Labor Day". See the following link:

3 Idem

4 Idem

5 Idem

6 Idem

7 Idem

8 Palestinian News Agency - Wafa. Shtayyeh: $137 million is the cost of our plan to confront “Corona” and $3.8 billion is the estimated Palestinian economic losses. Posted on (9/4/2020). See the following link:

9 Statements of Ola Awad (President of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics). A radio episode broadcast on Palestine TV within the "Malaf Al-Youm" program on April 2, 2020. See the following link:

10 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. "Dr. Awad, reviews the labor reality in Palestine for the year 2020 on the occasion of International Labor Day". See the following link:

11 Prime Minister's Office. The Prime Minister's statement on the measures to extend the state of emergency to confront the outbreak of the Corona virus in Palestine. (3/4/2020). See the following link: