Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank, and Gaza – West Bank and Gaza
Section 7. Worker Rights
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
PA law does not expressly forbid forced or compulsory labor or human trafficking. Forced labor occurred in the West Bank and Gaza. Women working as domestic workers were vulnerable to forced labor conditions in both the West Bank and Gaza, since the PA and de facto Hamas authorities do not regulate domestic labor within households or in the large informal sector.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
PA law prohibits the employment of any person younger than age 15. PA law classifies children as persons younger than age 18 and restricts employment for those between 15 and 18. The law permits hiring children between ages 15 and 18 for certain types of employment under set conditions. The law allows children younger than age 15 to work for immediate family members under close supervision.
PA law prohibits children from working more than 40 hours per week; operating certain types of machines and equipment; performing work that might be unsafe or damage their health or education; and working at night, in hard labor, or in remote locations far from urban centers. A presidential decree includes provisions on child labor accompanied by explicit penalties for violations. PA authorities can penalize repeat offenders by having fines doubled and/or full or partial closure of their facility. Fines and enforcement were not sufficient to deter violations.
In 2017, the latest year for which data were available, PA officials found 70 cases involving child labor (younger than age of 15) and referred 10 cases to the courts. In recent years PA officials reported fining “numerous” persons after successful investigations conducted by the PA Ministry of Labor. The ministry inspected only businesses operating in the formal economy and was unable to conduct investigations in the Gaza Strip. It did not have access to Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank. Many cases of child labor in the West Bank reportedly occurred in home environments, for example on family farms, which were not open to labor ministry inspection.
In the second quarter of the year, the PA estimated that 3 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 worked in the West Bank and 1.4 percent of children in this same age group worked in Gaza. Palestinian child laborers deemed by the PA to be most vulnerable to forced labor or extreme weather conditions generally worked in shops, as roadside and checkpoint street vendors, in car washes, in factories, in small manufacturing enterprises, or on family farms.
Hamas reportedly did not enforce child labor laws in Gaza. Hamas reportedly encouraged children to work gathering gravel and scrap metal from bombsites to sell to recycling merchants and increased recruitment of youth for tunnel-digging activities. There were also reports Hamas trained children as combatants.
The Israeli government stated it did not issue permits for Palestinian West Bank residents younger than 18 to work in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, except in the Jordan Valley where the law allows issuing permits to persons age 16 and older. There were reports during the year that some Palestinian children entered the settlements or crossed into Israel illegally, often smuggled, to seek work. The PA reported that Palestinian children engaged in child labor in Israeli settlements in the West Bank faced security risks, exploitation, and harassment, since they did not have access to legal protection or labor inspection.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
PA laws and regulations do not prohibit discrimination regarding race, language, sexual orientation or gender identity, HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases, or social status. While PA laws prohibit discrimination based on gender and disabilities, penalties were insufficient to deter violations and the PA did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations in the West Bank, nor did Hamas in Gaza. PA labor law states that work is the right of every capable citizen; however, it regulates the work of women, preventing them from employment in dangerous occupations.
There was discrimination in the West Bank and Gaza based on the above categories with respect to employment and occupation. Women endured prejudice and, in some cases, repressive conditions at work. At just 20 percent in Gaza and 17 percent in the West Bank, Palestinian female labor force participation is one of the lowest in the region, despite high education and literacy rates.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The PA’s minimum wage of 1,450 shekels ($400) fell well below the poverty line of 2,470 shekels ($678) per month. The PA estimated 14 percent of residents in the West Bank and 39 percent of residents in Gaza lived below the poverty line of 16.4 shekels ($4.50) per day.
According to PA law, the maximum official Sunday to Thursday workweek was 48 hours. The law also allows for paid official and religious holidays, which employers may not deduct from annual leave. Workers must be paid time and a half for each hour worked beyond 45 hours per week and may not perform more than 12 hours of overtime work per week.
The PA Ministry of Labor was responsible for setting occupational health and safety standards. Palestinian workers do not have the legal protection to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The ministry’s enforcement ability on wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards was limited, even in the West Bank, in part due to lack of staff. Penalties ranged from NIS 200-500 ($53-$135) and were also insufficient to deter violations. During the year, the Ministry of Labor conducted periodic visits to the work places as mandated by the labor law. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor’s Inspection Department made almost 9,500 visits to more than 7,300 business establishments. The inspectorate staff was inadequate to enforce compliance. The PA did not effectively monitor smaller worksites, which were at times below legal safety standards.
The ministry cannot enforce Palestinian labor law west of Israel’s security barrier, or in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
Israeli authorities did not conduct labor inspections in Israeli settlements, where Palestinian workers constituted a significant part of the workforce. The lack of a competent labor authority in the settlements increased workers’ vulnerability to exploitation. NGOs such as Kav LaOved stated that exploitative practices in Israeli settlements were widespread. During the second quarter of the year, 125,600 Palestinians worked in Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The International Labor Organization estimated approximately half of all such workers with permits continued to pay exorbitant monthly fees to brokers (averaging $600 USD) to obtain and maintain valid work permits. Roughly 40,000 Palestinians work in Israel and Israeli settlements most in construction and seasonal agriculture. These workers were more vulnerable to exploitation and are not eligible for worker benefits such as paid annual and sick leave. Israeli NGO Kav LaOved brought cases to Israeli labor courts on behalf of Palestinian workers employed by enterprises in Israel and West Bank settlements. Many of these cases related to nonpayment or misreporting of wages, as well as inadequate medical care following workplace injury, as well as subsequent health insurance claims within the Israeli system.
According to the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics Labor Force Survey, 33 percent of wage employees received less than the minimum wage in the second quarter of the year. In the West Bank, approximately 13 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. In Gaza 78 percent of wage employees in the private sector received less than the minimum monthly wage. Palestinians working in Israeli settlements reported they continued to receive wages lower than the Israeli minimum wage, despite a 2008 high court ruling that Israeli labor laws apply to relations between Palestinian workers and Israeli employers in settlements.
Respect for occupational safety and health standards in practice was poor. There were more than 20 workplace fatalities of Palestinian laborers in Israel or Israeli settlements during the year. Israeli NGO Kav LaOved documented dozens of cases where employers instructed employees to return to the West Bank following workplace injury rather than seeking medical attention inside Israel.
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