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1,000 UNRWA employees on strike in Gaza, plan wider shutdown

Nov. 21, 2016 10:04 A.M. (Updated: Nov. 21, 2016 6:46 P.M.)
GAZA (Ma’an) -- Hundreds of employees of UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing services for some five million Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, went on strike on Monday in the organization's main offices in Gaza City, the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, protesting the UNRWA administration's failure to meet their demands regarding wages and unfilled job vacancies.

Head of the employee's union Suheil al-Hindi told Ma’an that about 1,000 employees who work in the main headquarters in Gaza City went on strike Monday, adding that the "biggest protest" would take place on Tuesday as local employees in all UNRWA's office in the northern Gaza Strip would go on strike and would take to the streets.

Talks between the union and the UNRWA's administration have been frozen, he noted, and more protests would come if the demands of the union were not met.

UNRWA Media consultant Adnan Abu Hasna released a statement on Sunday in response to the announcement of the planned shutdown, saying that negotiations were “the only way to find a solution.”

Abu Hasna added that millions of Palestinian refugees that UNRWA services would be affected if the strikes continued, noting that all previous conflicts between the administration and union have only been solved through negotiations.

Hundreds of UNRWA employees launched a one-day strike and protested last week in front of the UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City over the same unmet demands.

While Abu Hasna expressed the same sentiments at the time -- that negotiations were the only path to finding a solution -- al-Hindi said at the time that three months of negotiations with the UN administration had not produced any results.

Al-Hindi has previously accused the UNRWA administration in the past of not filling in hundreds of vacant positions, claiming the UN agency "deliberately puts off hiring employees in order to win some time and save money at the expense of refugees."

The union, according to al-Hindi, has also demanded that UNRWA increase salaries to reflect the high cost of living and to stop reducing services the organization offers to Palestinian refugees.

UNRWA's director of operations in the Gaza Strip, Bo Schack denied on Oct. 17 that UNRWA had reduced any services to Palestinian refugees despite the severe funding shortage.

"UNRWA is exerting huge efforts in Gaza and there have been no reductions in services at all," Schack said during a news conference at UNRWA's headquarters in Gaza City, when he claimed that the total number of UNRWA employees had in fact increased.

While UNRWA has denied allegations in the past that the changes to refugee services were an attempt to develop more cost-effective procedures in order to alleviate a financial crisis in the agency, Palestinians have accused the agency of sacrificing the well-being of Palestinian refugees in order to make up for their financial strains.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on UN member states in May to assist the organization in compensating for a $81 million deficit, adding that the agency was, again, in “dire need of resources.” The plea came one year after the organization faced the largest financial setback in its history, with a recorded deficit of $100 million.

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