UNRWA workers on strike in four countries over low wages

Published September 19th, 2016 - 11:30 GMT
Palestinians check the damage in their house after it was hit by Israeli tank fire on September 6, 2016 in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinians check the damage in their house after it was hit by Israeli tank fire on September 6, 2016 in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The union of employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was staging a temporary strike in four countries on Monday to protest low salaries and staff shortages.

Union speaker in Gaza Suheil al-Hindi told Ma’an on Sunday that the UNRWA main office and service facilities in the besieged Gaza Strip would be closed for an hour from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m., and that health and environment centers would be closed from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.

Al-Hindi added that UNRWA-affiliated schools in Gaza were suspending classes in the morning after 10:30 a.m and in the afternoon after 3:30 p.m.

Temporary strikes were also reportedly taking place at UNRWA facilities in the occupied West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan.

Al-Hindi accused the UNRWA administration of not filling in hundreds of vacant positions, claiming the UN agency "deliberately puts off hiring employees in order to win some time and save money at the expense of refugees."

Al-Hindi said that UNRWA-affiliated schools were in a state of “chaos,” with some 449 teaching positions left unfilled, while hundreds of teachers were off duty due to health issues, maternity leave or the Muslim pilgrimage of Hajj, which concluded late last week, adding that some schools hadn’t received textbooks three weeks into the school year.

Meanwhile, al-Hindi said, UNRWA was not seeking to palliate the lack of staff in schools and health centers, despite there being hundreds of unemployed graduates qualified to hold positions in these fields.

Al-Hindi called the current relationship between UNRWA administration and the union "the worst ever," and said that the workers’ union would carry out more protests if UNRWA did not meet their demands.

UNRWA advisor on media affairs Adnan Abu Hasna said the union was "demanding a salary increase for all employees," adding that a survey conducted by UNRWA’s administration in coordination with the union of employees found out that a number of employees received salaries lower than the average in the hosting country.

"The UNRWA administration respects the survey's results and is committed to adjust the salaries of this group," Abu Hasna said.

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Ma’an on Sunday that UNRWA would “respect the results (of the survey) and implement its pay policy” for staff paid below the benchmark salary.

However, Gunness said that that “the union demand for an increase for all staff, given the results of the salary survey, do not justify such an increase.”

Gunness did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claims regarding staff shortages.

UNRWA has provided services to some of the five million registered Palestinian refugees in the occupied Palestinian territory, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan since 1949 after the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes following the creation of the state of Israel.

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