Al Mezan Center for Human Rights organized a Face-the-Pubic meeting on 22 April 2007.
It tackled the crisis of municipalities' workers in the Gaza Strip; their legitimate right to strike and the critical consequences in case the strike continues.
The meeting took place in the Palestinian Labor Syndicates Union building in Al Saftawi neighborhood in Jabalia.
Representatives of the government, trade unions and municipalities were invited to speak at the meeting; including Mr.
Sofian Abu Samra, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Local Government, Mr.
Issa Dhahir, Mayor of Jabalia, Mr.
Walid Abu Roz, Spokesman of Municipalities' Workers Union, Mr.
Saleh El Dalu, Director of Revenues Department at the Ministry of Finance, and Ali Abu Marsa, representative of Beit Lahia Municipality.
Workers and affected citizens also attended.
The meeting aimed to explore the causes and consequences of the strike announced by municipalities' workers and provide solutions to the crisis.
Mahmoud Abu Rahma, who represented Al Mezan and moderated the meeting, said the Center has been concerned by the human rights impacts of the crisis; especially the consequences of the strike on the rights to health, water and clean environment as well as association rights in OPT.
He called on the government and municipalities to provide prompt solutions to avoid further deterioration of public health in the Gaza Strip; especially as some of those might be irreversible; e.
leak of chemical polluters to Gaza's aquifers.
He also criticized the de facto discrimination between civil servants and municipalities' workers in terms of payment under the financial crisis.
The speakers had conflicting stances.
Workers' representatives asserted the government's responsibility for the crisis because it has failed to meet their demands to salary after months of work without payment, and to ensure equality with other civil servants.
Municipality speakers said the crisis was mainly caused by the international sanctions, which dried the government treasury and caused collapse to the economy.
Therefore, government subsidies stopped and most citizens' earnings do not allow paying municipal fees and tax.
Municipalities lost almost all of the possible revenues that enable them to pay their workers for many months.
They also asserted that the government has been unable, rather than unwilling, to help.
But they joined the workers in their demand for equality with other civil servants.
Government speakers emphasized the decentralized nature of the municipalities' functions, which necessitate independent financial assets.
They said the municipalities must improve the collection of tax and fees; at least from those citizens who are capable of paying them (the income of some 80% of Gaza households place them below the poverty line; 43% of the total number of households live under the extreme poverty line).
It was stated that the strike was suspended for one week upon agreement between the Prime Minister and the municipalities, which was indorsed by the workers' union.
The government should consider solutions during this period, especially as to ensuring equality, allocation of funds and considering adding municipalities' workers on the Temporary International Mechanism.
Attendants posed many questions and comments during the meeting.
They stressed the government's major responsibility for the crisis.
Al Mezan emphasized that the meeting was a first step towards tackling the problem and it would follow up the issues with authorities.
The meeting was broadcasted on Al Jazeera Live.