GAZA CITY (Ma'an) -- Dozens of Palestinian teachers working for schools administered by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in the besieged Gaza Strip protested in front of UNRWA’s headquarters in Gaza City on Tuesday, demanding to be granted fixed contracts.
After 450 teachers launched protest measures, 412 have so far been granted fixed contracts and the corresponding benefits, while 38 remaining teachers of Arabic and English still held temporary contracts, according to Mahdi Nassar, one of the teachers.
Nasser said that the teachers had received assurances from UNRWA that they would be granted fixed contracts, but were still waiting for their demands to be met.
In response to a request for comment, an UNRWA source told Ma’an that since February UNRWA established more than 400 fixed contract posts for Palestinian teachers "to deal with the increased number of students entering UNRWA schools for the school year 2016/17."
"There are fewer than 40 teachers still working on daily paid contracts," the source said, adding that UNRWA has not been able to offer these teachers fixed-term contracts due to "issues linked to outstanding planning issues and changes that are being planned by the (Palestinian Authority) Ministry of Education for the next school year 2017/18."
In addition, "the question of ensuring a gender balance in the number of male and female teachers in UNRWA schools," was also cited as a reason for the organization's inability to increase the number of fixed contracts.
A strike last November in Gaza comprising at least 1,000 UNRWA workers was halted
after the UNRWA administration responded positively to union demands to fill a number of job vacancies, including the hiring of 200 new teachers, while 200 others were to be hired in January.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said at the time that negotiations were still ongoing with the unions, and that the agency was continuing to listen to the demands of protesters.
“Despite financial challenges, including this year, the Agency is determined to address the needs of staff and to fulfill its obligations under the Agency’s Pay Policy,” Gunness said, adding that the “closing of UNRWA offices and installations negatively impacts our services to some of the most vulnerable people in the communities we serve.”
“It is unfortunate that some of the unions are seeking additional gains by interrupting services to Palestine refugees in the West Bank and Gaza, closing offices and effectively causing their members to lose pay for not working instead of engaging in dialogue,” he said.