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Oxfam organizes Gaza May Day event to highlight unemployment

May 1, 2010 9:41 P.M. (Updated: May 2, 2010 5:37 P.M.)
Bethlehem - Ma'an - Local partners with Oxfam in Gaza organized a May Day event in Gaza to highlight the state of labor in the coastal enclave under the ongoing Israeli blockade.

The Democracy and Worker's Rights Center, a Palestinian NGO focusing on worker’s rights across the occupied Palestinian territories, and Sawt Al Amel, an Palestinian-Israeli NGO, representing 500 Gaza workers suing their former Israeli employers for back wages and withheld pensions, arranged the rally in Gaza City to shed light on workers' increasingly becoming dependent on aid, a statement read.

Adnan al-Alian, a father of eight who worked for nine years in the Erez Industrial Zone, says he now has no way to provide a decent life for his family, the statement read. “I’ve had no work except when I was given the opportunity to participate in a single three month cash-for-work program last year. I rely on food aid assistance to get by.”

According to the last labor force survey conducted by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), overall unemployment in the Gaza Strip is 38.6 percent, although in some Gaza districts, such as Khan Younis in southern Gaza, unemployment has reached 49.3 percent, Oxfam quoted.

“Under the siege key sectors of Gaza’s economy, like the agricultural and industrial sectors, are not functional. Poverty and unemployment figures keep rising and workers are becoming hopeless,” stated Karim Nashwan, Director of the Center for Democracy and Workers’ Rights- Gaza.

Following the closure of Gaza’s borders in June 2007, employment in the agricultural sector fell 60 percent, from 25,000 workers in 2007 to 10,000 workers in 2008, the statement said, adding that by the end of 2009, just five percent of Gaza’s work force was employed in agriculture.

Unemployment amongst young people is particularly high, with 57 percent unemployment reported for persons under the age of 30. Half of the population of the Gaza Strip is under the age of 18.

Samir al-Nahal, a 28-year old from Rafah, is still single. He was steadily employed in the Israeli-controlled Erez Industrial Zone until it was closed down by the Israeli army in 2004. “Since the blockade my life has been turned upside down. I dreamed of building a house, getting married, and starting a family. Now my dream is just finding a job,” he says.

"According to the Palestine Trade Center (PALTRADE), Gaza’s inability to import raw materials and export finished products has caused the collapse of 95 percent of the private sector. Hamdan Hamada, the co-owner of the Bader Flour Mill, used to employ 85 workers. Hamada’s mill was the only operating flour mill in the Gaza Strip, and processed between 200 and 220 tonnes of flour every day," the statement read.

Much of the mill’s machinery was destroyed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in January 2009, and Hamada has since been unable to import the new machinery he needs to restart production.

Hamada told Oxfam that he keeps 25 workers on call. “I can only pay them 70 percent of their old salaries, but I need to keep them in case we can resume operations and get back to work. Paying them to do nothing is costing me 60,000 NIS (16,000 USD) each month.”

"The Israeli blockade inflicts collective punishment -- illegal under International Law -- on Gaza’s civilian population, including workers. In accordance with Security Council Resolution 1860, Israeli authorities need to fully open all Gaza crossings to humanitarian aid, commercial goods and civilians to and from Gaza."

The statement added that the crossings are equipped with technology to prevent the smuggling of weapons through commercial shipments, and "are thus able to handle free movement of people while addressing Israel’s security needs."

"Today, Gazans don’t want to depend on aid. They want the opportunity to engage in decent work, in order to provide for their families and better their lives," the statement concluded.

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