A rank-and-file Palestinian union leader has been fired and charged with being a security threat while he was leading negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement at a company in an Israeli settlement on the West Bank.
After Hatem Abu Ziadeh, the elected chair of a workers’ committee at the Zarfati Garage in Mishor Adumin, was abruptly dismissed, he was labeled a security threat, and the police subsequently revoked his work papers.
Palestinians working in Israeli settlements are required to have work papers that must be renewed every four months. Without work papers, it will be impossible for Abu Ziadeh to get his job back.
“The police decision (to revoke Abu Ziadeh’s papers) was based on fabricated security claims made by the employer,” said the workers’ union WAC-MAAN in a media release.
The union also said that Zarfati is “making cynical use of the war in Gaza” to bust the union.
Labor Start is asking people to support Abu Ziadeh, a mechanic with 17 years of service at Zarfati, by signing a petition.
Abu Ziadeh and other Zarfati workers in 2013 asked WAC-MAAN to help them form a union.
The workers complained that Zarfati did not pay them the minimum wage, did not pay for social benefits such as pensions and health insurance (as required by Israeli law), and did not provide workers with paid sick days or vacations.
The workers also said that Zarfati had a poor safety record and did not provide workers compensation for those injured on the job.
After meeting with WAC-MAAN staff, Abu Ziadeh and his comrades began signing up other workers for the union. When 39 out of the 50 workers at the garage joined the union, WAC-MAAN requested a meeting with management to discuss the workers grievances and to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.
After receiving notice that the workers had organized, Zarfati management began conducting one-on-one meetings with workers to persuade them to drop out of the union.
Some did, but most remained in the union.
After the workers notified management that they planned a legal strike to gain union recognition, management agreed to meet with the workers’ elected committee to discuss their grievances and negotiate an agreement.
The negotiations continued for nearly a year. During this time, some progress was made toward an agreement.
But about two weeks after the war in Gaza started, Zarfati fired Abu Ziadeh.
At a July 27 hearing on Abu Ziadeh’s firing in The Jerusalem Labor Court, Zarfati raised security charges against the mechanic for the first time. The company, which repairs trucks and other vehicles, subsequently claimed that Abu Ziadeh had sabotaged military vehicles being repaired at the garage.
The union questioned the veracity of the charges and the motives behind them
“Is it not strange that a quiet and law-abiding worker of so many years’ standing suddenly becomes a ‘security threat,’ precisely at the moment he is elected to chair the workers’ committee?” said WAC-MAAN in a media release.
Shortly after Abu Ziadeh was fired, the Zarfati workers went on strike to demand his job back.
Since then, they have been threatened by the police and members of the local employers association.
The union reports that on July 23 members of the local employers association approached picketers and threatened them with violence if the workers continued to strike.
When the union called the police to report the threats, the police came out to the picket line and arrested Yoav Tamir, another one of the union leaders.
A day later, Assaf Adiv, WAC-MAAN’s general secretary was arrested at the picket line and barred from the garage for two weeks.
Despite the harassment, WAC-MAAN said that the fight for union recognition at Zarfati and for the rehiring of Abu Ziadeh will continue.
“WAC-MAAN insists on its right to represent workers and on their right to organize,” said the union in a media release. “We will not allow threats and bullying to deter us from protecting the right to make a living with dignity, regardless of religion, race, and nationality.”