TUC policy speaks out in support of a just, comprehensive and lasting peace that is consistent with international law and based on a two-state solution, with respect for the right to collective self-determination and the right to return. This is shown by Congress motions in 2010 and 2012, a General Council Statement in 2014, and Congress motions in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
The TUC works closely with affiliates and the ITUC in support of justice for Palestine. TUC affiliates have, for example, supported campaigns and projects that build capacity in organising and collective bargaining, and help increase workers’ knowledge and understanding of their rights. Through advocacy and policy work, the Arab Trade Union Confederation (ATUC) and ITUC work to improve working conditions for Palestinians and for peace, while global union federations also run projects in support of strengthening Palestinian workers’ rights.
In support of delivering our policies, the TUC undertakes advocacy directed at the Secretary of State for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Minister for North Africa and the Middle East. We have built alliances with Palestinian, Israeli and UK NGOs supporting Palestinian rights.
The International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) Global Rights Index places Palestine in its worst ranking with “no guarantee of fundamental labour rights” due to a breakdown in the rule of law. And in recognising that the occupation is a barrier to achieving decent work, the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Palestinian Decent Work Programme 2018-2022 aims to support the State of Palestine’s National Policy Agenda with its three main pillars: i) the path to independence, ii) ending the occupation and iii) sustainable development.
Poor working conditions and employment prospects in the Occupied Palestinian Territories leave workers with little choice other than to seek work in the illegal settlements and Israel. According to a recent ILO report, work in the settlements is often informal and unregulated. Palestinian workers report multiple employment abuses including being paid below the minimum wage, unregulated hiring, and incidences of child labour, especially in agriculture. Virtually no labour inspections take place, meaning violations are rarely penalised and rights are seldom enforced.
In addition, Palestinian workers are required to have a permit to work in Israel and the settlements. This has exposed them to exploitation through unscrupulous labour brokers and through binding them to an employer. In 2020, the Israeli government announced it would improve the permit system, so that Palestinian construction workers in Israel would receive their permits directly. Although this is a step forward and should establish a direct employment relationship between workers and employers, rather than through labour brokers, enforcement is vital. Furthermore, there are around 28,600 Palestinians who do not have a permit and face even greater exploitation. There should be a system where every worker is treated fairly and has decent work.
Palestinian workers in Israel cannot join a union of their choosing, unlike their Israeli colleagues. This violates ILO Convention 87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise). And Palestinian trade unions are prevented from acting legally in the settlements, because these are under Israeli control.
Violations of labour rights are part of the systematic discrimination and denial of rights experienced by Palestinian people. Collectively, UN rapporteurs have referred to human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories that include labour exploitation, land confiscation, home demolitions, excessive use of force and torture, lack of freedom of movement, and the imposition of a two-tier system of political, legal, social, cultural and economic rights based on ethnicity and nationality.
There is a growing body of analysis examining the crime of apartheid in the context of Israel and the occupation of Palestinian territories. This has drawn on the Rome Statute, which defines apartheid as a crime against humanity, the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Some experts find that there are apartheid policies and practices being committed.
The UK-Israel Trade and Partnership Agreement came into force in January 2021. The total trade in goods and services between the two countries was £3.9bn and involved approximately 10,000 UK VAT registered companies in 2017. Goods and services traded include vehicles, railway stock, mechanical devices, pharmaceutical products, transport and travel.
The UK government has previously stated that guaranteeing human rights in trade is important, “we are a world leader in ensuring and guaranteeing human rights”.
However, the Trade and Partnership Agreement signed between the UK and Israel has no binding safeguards for protecting human and labour rights, nor enforcement mechanisms or sanctions if there are violations of rights. The TUC has called for an ethical policy on all trade with Israel, which includes banning trade with the settlements and suspension of the UK-Israel Trade and Partnership Agreement until Palestinian rights are respected.
TUC democratically agreed policy is to encourage affiliates, employers and pension funds to disinvest from, and boycott the goods of companies that profit from illegal settlements, the occupation, and construction of the wall.
Despite the illegal occupation, Campaign Against the Arms Trade states that the UK has consistently sold arms to Israel – prompting questions about being a world leader in ensuring and guaranteeing human rights.
In February 2018, in accordance with UN resolution 31/36, the UN General Assembly published a database of business enterprises involved in activities related to illegal settlements in the Occupied Territories. Business activities raising particular human rights violations concerns included the supply of equipment and materials facilitating the construction and expansion of settlements and the wall; the supply of surveillance and identification equipment for settlements, the wall and checkpoints directly linked with the settlements; and the supply of equipment for the demolition of housing and property. The UK government opposed the creation of this database.
Resources and Useful Links
In 2022 the TUC published an update to the briefing, reflecting developments in both the situation in Palestine and TUC policy.
Don’t Buy Into the Occupation coalition report on financial flows into illegal Israeli settlements.
Homepage of the TUC’s sister trade union centre, the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions.
Homepage of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign
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