Reducing long term high unemployment is one of the biggest challenges facing Palestinian society. Since the outbreak of the Intifada in September 2000, the rate of unemployment has jumped dramatically. The Israeli occupation has caused severe damage to the Palestinian economy in general and the labor force in particular. The harsh measures imposed by the Israeli military including restrictions on movement, extended curfews, destruction of infra-structure, isolation of communities and wide-scale detentions and arrests have caused the collapse of many institutions that employ Palestinian citizens. Thousands of workers and business people are without an income and therefore unable to provide their families with the basic necessities of life.
The Palestinian Authority has raised discussions regarding the phenomenon of massive unemployment, particularly in regard to the role and responsibilities of its executive and legislative branches, as well as the private sector, labor unions and international development programs.
The Arab Thought Forum, building on its experience in responding to events which threaten citizens rights, has contributed to this discussion and the attempts to find solutions.
With the cooperation of the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the Palestinian Business Association and Palestinian Trade Unions, the Arab Thought Forum s Citizen Rights Project has taken the following steps:
¢ Establishing a database providing details on unemployed sectors of the economy, their geographical distribution, and the type and nature of the job losses.
¢ Issuing an assessment report on job creation, including the scope and effect of unemployment and the needs and recommendations for lowering it.
¢ Issuing an assessment report on the status of the labor unions and labor movements in Palestine and their effectiveness for problem solving in relation to unemployment.
¢ Conducting two workshops, one in Ramallah and one in Gaza, to disseminate and review the assessment report.
¢ Raising awareness and keeping the general public informed through televised broadcasts of two debates: Al-Quds Educational TV on 9th November, 2003 and WATAN TV on 15th November, 2003.
¢ Forming three active working groups representing the public sector, trade unions and the Palestinian Legislative Council to address the issues of:
a) job creation,
b) legislation for social security and a national insurance system, and
c) the role of the private sector.
¢ Delivering recommendations from the working groups and workshops to the Minister of Labor, the Minister of Social Welfare and other relevant and concerned bodies and organizations.
By the end of 2002, an unemployment database was established in conjunction with the PCBS as a prelude to the response on addressing the needs for significantly reducing unemployment.
The issue of rising unemployment, emanating from the grave economic conditions caused by Israeli s harmful policies including the siege of Palestinian towns and cities, placed the matter once again in the concerns of ATF during 2003.
A number of meetings were held, within this framework, with the Minister of Labor, the Head of the Palestinian Industries and the Head of the PCBS.