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New ILO report on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories

GENEVA (ILO News) - The annual report of the International Labour Office (ILO) on the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories paints a grim picture of their plight, which it says has continued to worsen dramatically over the past year.

According to the report, the number of households below the poverty line jumped by 26 per cent between March 2006 and March 2007, while per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in the occupied Arab territories was 40 per cent lower in 2006 than in 1999. The report also said seven out of ten households, comprising some 2.4 million persons, are in poverty.

According to the new report, social hardships have deepened and the economic crisis has accelerated since May 2006 as a result of a major contraction in average income. It put the immediate cause as the non-payment of full wages of public employees since April 2006, the decline in public and private investment, and the growing difficulties faced by enterprises in moving their products to domestic and international markets, the report said, attributing this mainly to the fact that multiple barriers to and controls on mobility of people and goods have intensified in 2006.

"There is territorial disintegration, with a tight network of closures, sophisticated controls and the expansion of illegal settlements", says the report, adding that "closures are the main cause of the worsening socio-economic situation of Palestinian women and men".

The report says two out of three persons are without employment, either because they are unemployed or because they are outside the labour force. According to the report, some 206,000 people or 24 per cent of the labour force were unemployed in December 2006.

The economic crisis has been compounded by a virtual breakdown of public institutions that has undermined national capacity, decision-making and internal reform.

The report was prepared for the ILO's International Labour Conference which opens its annual session here on 30 May. The findings of the report are based on missions sent to the occupied Arab territories and Israel and to the Syrian Arab Republic earlier this year to assess the situation of workers of the occupied Arab territories, including the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan.

The mission documented the continued intimidation and harassment of Arab workers as well as discrimination of Arab employers. According to the report, access to legal process is often delayed and costly for workers who can ill afford it. Arab entrepreneurs, workers and independent producers and farmers suffer multiple discrimination in access to employment and markets, the report says.

"Reducing and removing barriers to the mobility of persons and goods within the territories, between Gaza and the West Bank and with the outside world, while ensuring security in Israel, is foremost among the measures that could avert the mounting economic and social crisis in the occupied territories", the report says.

The economy, enterprises and employment need much more attention on the part of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and international donors, the report says, adding that entrepreneurs and workers need support in order to consolidate enterprises, encourage new investment and diversify economic activity. This could contribute to fostering security and moving closer to a long-term negotiated solution to the conflict, the report says.

In response to these challenges and in line with requests from ILO partners in the region to intensify the ILO's programme of technical cooperation, an ILO technical mission will visit the occupied territories as soon as possible in order to draw up detailed proposals to promote employment opportunities, enterprise development and tripartite dialogue through strong employers' and workers' organizations.

The ILO remains committed to supporting its constituents in their pursuit of sustainable livelihoods in conditions of security, equality and dignity - fundamental for the realization of a just peace.