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Protests on unpaid wages to continue in Palestine

42 per cent of Palestinian public sector workers are indebted to local banks, owing $640 million

Gulf News

Ramallah: Government departments in the West Bank will remain closed on Thursday in protest against the half month salary the Palestinian National Authority announced it will pay striking the public sector workers.

The Palestinian Union of Public Employees (PUPE) has said the government’s move aims to deepen the problem and not to solve it.

Public sector employees have adopted the strategy of working three days a week and strike on two days. The workers have threatened to expand their action to three days of strikes if the salaries are not paid in full. Public sector institutions such as schools and all other official government departments were functional last Sunday and Monday and will be functional on Wednesday. Tuesday is a public holiday to mark Christmas, and Thursday will be off.

The PNA, which suffers a serious financial crunch, arranged a $100 million (Dh367) loan from local banks backed by guarantees from Arab states to pay a half month salary of its public employees. The PNA, which governs semi-autonomous pockets of the West Bank as part of the Oslo Accords with Israel, has been facing severe financial difficulties since the occupying power announced that it was withholding government tax revenues collected on the PNA’s behalf due to the latter’s efforts to pursue observer member status for Palestine at the United Nations.

Bassam Zakarnah, who heads the PUPE, said that the PNA was not able to solve the problem and did not set a date for paying the salaries of the rest of November and all of December.

He said that the half month salary is not enough for the employees to pay their debts and bank loan instalments. “The half month salary does not solve the problem at all; on the contrary, it deepens it,” he told Gulf News.

The PNA has 180,000 public employees for whom its needs $200 million a month for salaries. Approximately $110 million comes from Palestinian tax revenues held by Israel, and the rest is arranged through foreign aid, which is separate from the government’s other expenses.

Abdullah Qashoue, a public employee told Gulf News that the entire amount expected from the PNA as a half-month salary will go into repaying debts, leaving “not a single penny” for domestic expenses.

He said that while the government was paying half a month’s salary, banks were withdrawing full monthly instalments, leaving borrowers with little if any money to spend on their daily requirements.

He said it was the government’s responsibility to force the banks to deduct a certain percentage of the salaries being deposited in the banks.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Monetary Fund announced that a total of 77,000, or approximately 43 per cent, of Palestinian public workers are indebted to local banks, having borrowed $640 million. The PNA is also indebted to local banks and needs to settle $1.5 billion.