The annual report of the International Labour Office (ILO) on the situation of workers in the occupied Palestinian territories says poverty and unemployment continues to worsen despite a moderate economic upturn last year.
While the economy rebounded moderately in 2005 following a very sharp dip, four out of every ten Palestinians in the territories were living under the official poverty line of less than US$2.10 a day, while the absolute number of the poor rose from 600,000 in 1999 to 1.6 million in 2005, the new report says.
Open unemployment reached 23.5 per cent in 2005. However, counting persons who were employed prior to the crisis in 2000, but are neither in employment nor actively seeking work, ILO estimates the jobless to have reached 40.7 per cent of the Palestinian labour force.
Unemployment is not the only concern, however, as the very low rates of labour force participation and employment have become an inherent characteristic of the labour market in the occupied territories. According to the report, 50 per cent of men and only 11 per cent of women of working age are employed. Every employed person supports an additional 5 persons.
Public sector employment, which accounts for 23 per cent of total employment, is directly affected by the Palestinian Authority's current inability to discharge fully its wage bill as a result of the prevailing difficulties with its international financial flows. The unemployment rate of young persons aged 15-24 years is 1.6 times the average unemployment rate.
"Again, the worsening situation since the end of 2005 urgently requires every effort of the Palestinian Authority, the Israeli Government and the international community to achieve decent work for women and men in the occupied territories", the report says. "The development of a viable Palestinian economy must be a priority."
According to the report, barriers to mobility for persons, goods and services within the West Bank and between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank have worsened in the latter half of 2005 and early 2006. Lifting those barriers, together with a viable trade regime with Israel and the world, are the two most important and pressing prerequisites to alleviate the prevailing social and economic crisis and to promote decent work in the occupied territories.
The pullout from Gaza Strip has created potential for economic and social recovery but this is hampered by continuing difficulties for Palestinian exporters, the report says.