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Palestinian shoe and leather workers go on strike

6 December, 2012Workers of the Malhees Company, operating in the leather and shoe industry, members of the General Union of Petrochemical Workers in Palestine declared a general strike in the city of Nablus on 3 December 2012.

The decision to hold the strike was taken in response to continuous violations of workers’ rights including the company management practice of abuse of workers' rights through individual agreements, unpaid wages and benefits to 45 people, representing the entire workforce of the company.

In the past the company used to employ 750 workers but due to a free trade agreement production became dependent on the imported material from China, resulting in downsizing of the workforce to 45 people.

The company shares have been recently divided among seven brothers who shut down some departments and ended the services of workers without paying compensation for their saved annual leave and other benefits.

Initially the management agreed to start negotiations after the union threatened to declare an indefinite strike at the plant. As a result of the negotiations conducted by the local union and the workers, the employer has paid out the arrears in wages. However the company refuses to pay compensation for workers' saved annual leave, claiming that it had an earlier agreement with workers employed under different conditions. The local union challenged the company’s claims saying that the conditions in question are in violation of the national legislation.

After 2 two-hour warning strikes in a week, on November 29, representatives of the union, Ministry of Labour and the management met for another round of negotiations. The management offered to pay half of the amount due to the workers for their saved annual leave, referring to a weak financial situation of the enterprise.

The union rejected the offer demanding the payment of compensation in full saying the declaration of unstable financial situation are untrue and blamed the company for the attempts to avoid fulfilling its obligations towards its employees.

The union has notified the management of its intention to take necessary legal actions. However, because of the absence of special labour courts in Palestine the solution of the matter can take years. In a bid to find justice the union decided to start an indefinite strike as of 3 December. Together with the announced strike the union runs a media campaign and mobilizes civil society to put further pressure on the company.