Around the world, 1 May is celebrated as International Workers’ Day, also known as Labor Day. Since its inception in 1889, this day has been devoted to honoring the struggle for workers’ rights and standing up against the exploitations and inequalities endured by working classes across the globe.
While the global economy is gradually recovering from the deep recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s Workers’ Day paints a bleak picture of the situation of Palestinian workers in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) and in the Gaza Strip in particular, primarily because of the pandemic’s profound impact on the already-faltering Palestinian economy.
In the Gaza Strip, amidst unprecedented preventive measures and repeated, full lockdowns that leave a significant portion of breadwinners confined to their houses, only a few industrial and commercial facilities have remained operational, causing the loss of income and livelihoods. As social protection programs continue to fall far short, low-paid and informal-sector workers—particularly daily-wage laborers, who often rely on intermittent employment—have been the hardest hit by the current crisis.
In April 2020, the Ministry of Labor in Gaza conducted an online registration of daily-wage laborers who had been impacted by the pandemic, registering 158,611 individuals who self-identified. Statistics also indicate that the labor force participation rate in the Gaza Strip dropped, alarmingly, from 39 to 35 percent, with unemployment reaching 49 percent. Meanwhile, the percentage of wage employees in the private sector who received less than the monthly minimum wage (1,450 NIS, equivalent to approximately 440 US dollar) increased from 81 to 82 percent during the pandemic.
Israel’s illegal closure of the Gaza Strip and repeated military attacks targeting vital manufacturing facilities, agricultural lands, and healthcare infrastructure both hampered Palestine’s response to the pandemic and compounded the ensuing economic turmoil.
In this context, Mr. Samir Zaqout, Al Mezan’s Deputy Director, noted that “Palestinian workers are more susceptible to harm as a result of Israel’s systematic human rights violations, notably its illegal 13-year closure policy on the Gaza Strip, as well as the pandemic. And with the persistent absence of any adequate governmental approach to protect unemployed workers, the human rights of Palestinian workers and their dependents continue to be severely undermined.”
Al Mezan also calls on the Palestinian National Authority to uphold Palestine’s international obligations—including those arising from the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights—pertinent to protecting workers’ rights. Swift governmental interventions are needed to solve national unemployment problems, notably food insecurity, child labor, and poor housing conditions.
On this day, Al Mezan also recalls the responsibility of the international community to intervene on behalf of the protected population and calls for prompt demands on Israel to lift its illegal closure on Gaza and for concrete efforts to ensure accountability and justice for violations of international law in the oPt that infringe workers’ rights.
Finally, on International Workers’ Day, Al Mezan honors workers, their achievements and their struggles all over the world.
 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, Press Release on the Results of the Labour Force Survey Second Quarter (April – June, 2020) available at: http://www.pcbs.gov.ps/post.aspx?lang=en&ItemID=3809