The delegation members have discussed and adopted the following points as a working paper that will guide our common effort to improve the conditions of local and migrant, Palestinian and Israeli, Arab and Jewish workers.
1. In the last of week of April 2007, an international labor delegation of seven members visited Israel and Palestine, meeting the key players in the field of employment in Israel’s agricultural sector. The delegation was initiated and organized by the independent workers’ association WAC-Maan, operating in Israel mainly with Arab workers. The delegation’s aim was to create pressure toward ending the violation of labor rights in this field. It proceeded in the best spirit of working-class solidarity, adopting the slogan: “An injury to one is an injury to all”.
2. We met representatives of the Israeli government, including the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Labor; that of Agriculture; the parliamentary committee on migrant workers; the General Federation of Israeli Trade Unions (Histadrut); Kav La’Oved and the Hotline for Migrant Workers (NGO’s), academic figures; the Thai Embassy to Israel; Israeli farmers; Arab workers organized by WAC and Thai workers working on Israeli farms. In its visit to the West Bank, the delegation met the PA Minister of Labor, the General Secretary of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions, the Director of the Democracy and Workers’ Rights Center and several union representatives in Ramallah and Abu Dis.
3. The delegation members received a first-hand understanding of the labor market in Israel and Palestine in the farm sector. These wide- ranging meetings led us to conclude that workers’ conditions in Israel’s agricultural sector are characterized by extreme exploitation; on many occasions they contravene both Israeli and international law, especially ILO conventions C111 and C100 and the UN Convention to Protect All Migrant Workers and their Families (1990). This situation contributes to extreme poverty, a high unemployment level among Palestinian workers, modern types of slavery practiced against Thai migrant workers, a lack of job opportunities for Arab women in Israel and a growing situation of anarchy in the labor market as a whole.
4. These key problems have to be dealt with as follows:
• The closure policy which Israel imposes on the Palestinian workers in the West Bank and Gaza should be lifted at once. The 15,000 Palestinian laborers who worked on Israeli farms until 1993 should be allowed to return to their jobs, in order to alleviate the social catastrophe in these two areas.
• More than 26,000 migrant workers from Thailand pay between $6,000 and $9,000 for a permit to come to Israel and work on farms. They receive salaries equivalent to 60% of Israel’s minimum wage. These practices should be stopped by both the government of Israel and its Thai counterpart.
• Arab women in Israel suffer from a low level of participation in the labor force (only 17%). Only if they work, however, can the society emerge from chronic poverty. Arab women are willing to work on Israeli farms, but the presence of indebted, exploited workers from Thailand makes it impossible to compete for jobs.
• To fight the anarchy in the Israeli labor market, the authorities should stop allowing manpower companies and subcontractors to employ workers without giving them full social rights. Labor organizations must give workers—all workers—the support net they need to fight for their rights. Only workers’ organizations can bring the needed change.
5. The Israeli and Thai governments have been negotiating an agreement that will end the huge admission fees paid by Thai workers who travel to Israel. We learned that nothing has come of these talks (despite Israeli Government decision No. 4024 from July 31, 2005). It is the responsibility of both governments, through their employment offices, to take control of this process, guaranteeing that this new type of slave trade is stopped and that workers’ rights are not violated.
6. Coming from trade unions and labor organizations, we, the undersigned delegates, unite in our commitment to make this visit a starting point for an international campaign supporting this country’s workers – Palestinian and Israeli, Arab and Jewish, local and migrant – in their fight for dignity and full social rights.
7. We will work, each in his/her country, to present the findings of the visit and to help create better awareness concerning the situation of workers in Israel and Palestine. We shall seek support for the effort by local trade unions and NGO’s to overcome national borders and help the workers achieve unity in the fight for their rights.
8. We shall involve other farm laborers’ unions worldwide, especially in areas where Israeli farm products are sold, to end the violation of workers’ rights in Israel’s agricultural sector. Israel must be pressured to abide by the international conventions concerning migrant workers, Palestinian workers and local Arab and Jewish workers.
9. International and regional labor institutions and trade union organizations—such as the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC-CSI-IGB) and the International Federation of Farm workers (IUF) —should be updated on the conclusions of this delegation. We see ourselves as forerunners of a more widely representative delegation of farm workers’ unions, which will mobilize the huge moral and political clout of the international labor movement.
Cecilia Sanz Fernandez – General Secretary of the Farm Workers Union in Spain (affiliated to the CCOO)
Antonio Perianes Pedrero, Farm Workers Union in Spain (affiliated to the CCOO) Andalucia Province
Endy Hagen – member of the German Trade Union Ver.di F.B.8
Hartwig Otto – member of the German Trade Union Ver.di F.B.8
Melody Gonzalez – representing the Coalition of Imokelli Workers (CIW), based in Miami, Florida.
Junia Lek Ympersrt – leader of the Thai Labor Campaign (TLC)
Issam Wahba – Head of Education and PR Dep. In the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions in Nablus PGFTU
The delegation’s visit was organized and coordinated by WAC-Ma’an. WAC’s National Coordinator Assaf Adiv and Roni Ben Efrat – Head of International Relations Department. WAC will conduct the ongoing network.
Assaf Adiv, National Coordinator – WAC-Ma’an