Court denies equal work conditions for Palestinians in West Bank legal no-mans-land – Arab-Israeli Conflict – Jerusalem Post.
In a ruling with massive implications for Israeli-Palestinian work relations as well as possible diplomatic consequences, the National Labor Court on Sunday denied three Palestinians who work in an Israeli industry near Tulkarm equal work conditions to Israelis, deciding that the location is essentially a legal no-man’s land because of its special circumstances.
The core of the debate, which has come up in parallel cases, was whether Israeli law applied to the Palestinians since they have Israeli employers, or 1967 Jordanian law, since the industrial workspaces are in Area C of the West Bank.
Under international law, an “occupying country” (in the legal sense, absent the political debate, occupying just means a country that has conquered territory) is supposed to apply the law that already existed to the local population that comes under its rule.
Since Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan in 1967, Israel has always taken the position that 1967 Jordanian law applies to Palestinians in a number of areas of life.
But in 2007, the High Court of Justice issued a major ruling that Palestinians who lived in the West Bank but worked for Israelis in the Givat Ze’ev settlement would get the same minimum level work conditions as Israelis in terms of pay, vacation days, work days and termination pay.
The three Palestinians along with Combatants for Peace and the Wac-Maan – Workers Advice Center wanted to apply that 2007 ruling to this case.
The National Labor Court had already applied the 2007 High Court ruling in other cases, including in December 2013. But the employers won in this case on the claim that the 2007 ruling does not apply because the industrial zone near Tulkarm falls into a special category.
The National Labor Court ultimately accepted the employers’ argument, also already accepted by a lower labor court, that because their industrial zone was part of a special joint effort under the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and part of the purpose is specifically to supply jobs to Palestinians, that Jordanian, not Israeli law, should apply.
The court also noted that out of 100 workers, only three were Israeli and they were in special roles, such that the Palestinians could not claim discrimination with regard to pay as compared to Israeli workers at the same site.
Further, the court wrote that all Palestinians had signed contracts accepting that Jordanian law would apply to them and added that since 2008 they were receiving the same minimum wage as Israelis, even if some of the vacation and severance rights differed.
At a hearing last week, the workers’ lawyer, Shahar Hoffman, also noted that the IDF has only recently been issuing orders to liberalize certain labor laws for Palestinians to “catch up” the laws to Israeli law – meaning that the Palestinian workers in this case, whose claim dates to 2010 did not benefit from the new legal trend.
Despite many supporters in attendance and a powerful human and emotional argument about the Palestinian workers getting equal treatment and escaping demeaning work conditions, the reaction of the five-judge panel last week had seemed to indicate that the workers have an uphill battle ahead of them.
National Labor Court President Yigal Plitman peppered the Palestinians’ lawyers with questions as they made their arguments, and put on a skeptical and impatient face throughout.
Plitman seemed to accept the premise of the lower court ruling and the employers that this case, with essentially all Palestinian workers, was different than the 2007 case, which included both Israeli and Palestinian workers, and could therefore support a discrimination accusation.
The Palestinians’ lawyers argued that the key distinction should not be the mix of employees, but the fact that the employer was Israeli and that the area is under Israeli control through the IDF and because it is Area C where the PA has no role.