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Minimum wage 'to benefit 300,000 workers'

Oct. 10, 2012 8:28 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 14, 2012 8:38 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The Palestinian Authority minister of labor on Wednesday defended the newly announced minimum wage, which workers say has been set too low.

Ahmad Majdalani said the PA was aware the wage was not high enough.

The cabinet on Tuesday approved a national wage committee's proposal to set the minimum monthly salary at 1,450 shekels ($375), which is lower than the national poverty line.

At a news conference in Ramallah, Majdalani said up to 300,000 workers on low wages would benefit from the new law, which he described as a major accomplishment.

The government did not side with any party on the issue, but eliminated obstacles to dialogue between sides, the minister said.

He added that the government sought to standardize salaries nationally and to secure a minimum wage for laborers to encourage them, not to frustrate them.

The minister accused critics of the new law of deliberately misleading workers and said they had falsely suggested it would lead to a pay cut for those earning above the new minimum wage.

Thirteen of the committee's 15 members voted in favor of setting the wage at 1,450 shekels, Majdalani said, adding that those who boycotted the vote should have attended.

Palestinian workers union chief Haydar Ibrahim said negotiators on the wage committee had taken 16 months to reach an agreement.

"If there was no occupation, we wouldn't have accepted the terms of agreement because the economic conditions would have been much better," he added.

Mahmoud Ziyada, secretary-general of independent Palestinian trade unions, also endorsed the new law.

"We believe this agreement is valuable because it was reached unanimously which makes it a national accomplishment," he said.

Ziyada said those who boycotted the final meeting to decide on the wage had earlier agreed to lower figures.

"We have documents and evidence that prove they were in favor of the agreed minimum wage," he said.

Protesters reject

On Tuesday, several unions led a protest outside the cabinet meeting in Ramallah urging the government not to approve the wage committee's proposal.

Hundreds of protesters accused the government of humiliating workers, shouting: "High prices and low wages is the government's policy."

Shaher Saad, head of the General Federation of Trade Unions, said the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistic's definition of the national poverty line should have been taken into account when deciding the minimum wage.

In July, PCBS said the relative poverty line was 2,293 shekels ($593) and the deep poverty line was 1,832 shekels ($474), considerably higher than the minimum wage of 1,450 shekels ($375).

Saad said several unions were in talks to hold an open strike if the government did not respond to workers' demands.

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