RAMALLAH: The Palestinian Engineers Syndicate has announced the escalation of its protest action, with hundreds of people demonstrating on Monday in front of the Palestinian prime minister's headquarters in Ramallah as ministers met for their weekly Cabinet session.
Protesters are demanding the financial rights of public engineers and seeking a government commitment to implement a financial agreement signed between the two parties last year, syndicate sources told Arab News.
It has demanded the implementation of the Cabinet’s decision, which includes disbursing a bonus to engineers working in the public sector at a rate of 120 percent, similar to employees in the same segment.
It also wants rewards for military engineers and housing allowances for fourth-grade teacher engineers.
Syndicate chair Nadia Habash told the sit-in: “We demand that the prime minister come down from his ivory tower to address the masses of engineers demanding their rights.”
She urged the prime minister to look at “us and address the engineers, talk to them, listen, and respond to their demands.”
She stressed the pursuit of justice and fairness for the engineers and the implementation of the agreement signed with the government in 2014, saying the government was persistent in ignoring their pleas and denying them their rights.
She said the government had filed a court case against the engineers to stop their strikes and repudiate the agreement.
The syndicate embarked on a strike of general engineers throughout last week to pressure the government to respond to its demands.
On July 30, it announced the escalation of its protest action for this week.
As part of a series of strikes and work pauses, which engineers carried out on Sunday, they also stayed away from the workplace and remained at the union’s headquarters.
Permanent engineers were also urged to leave their offices and follow the strike.
The syndicate began escalating its campaign in June, announcing an eight-day strike this month for engineers in the public sector.
Osama Taha, head of the syndicate in Ramallah, told Arab News: “We waited for the government to approve its budget for 2022 and the president's endorsement, but we have a government that does not abide by or implements the agreements that it signs.”
The protest covers 30,000 engineers in the West Bank, 18,000 active members of the syndicate, and 2,000 employees in the public sector from ministries affiliated with the Palestinian Authority.
The escalation of the action coincides with the ongoing month-long protest by 10,500 Palestinian lawyers.
A senior leader in the Fatah Central Committee expressed concern about the widening circle of union protests, which could weaken the status of the Palestinian Authority and paralyze life in the West Bank, especially if other unions such as doctors, pharmacists, and teachers announced a strike and similar protest steps.
“This series of union protests and strikes to demand rights indicates a defect in the relationship between the government and civil society institutions and negatively affects and weakens the image of the Palestinian government,” Ahmed Rafiq Awad, head of the Al-Quds Center for Future Studies at Al-Quds University, told Arab News,
“The frequent and continuation of strikes for a long period leads to job insecurity that weakens the authority's prestige and may lead to paralysis in public life.
“If the government claimed that it does not have financial capabilities, we would have cooperated with it to consider what was agreed upon as a debt to its engineers, which it can fulfill and abide by whenever its financial conditions improve, but it did not respect the agreements with the union and ignored them.”
But he expressed his hope that there would eventually be an agreement between the two sides.
Amid concern about the protests, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyieh said at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet session on Monday in Ramallah that the Israeli government's decision to deduct $177 million from Palestinian tax funds was unjust, illegal, and piracy.
“It adds to our financial crisis in another dimension, but it will not deter us from our commitment toward the families of prisoners and martyrs,” he added.
Israel has deducted the value of the salaries that the authority pays to the families of prisoners and martyrs since the end of last December.
Israel’s move has negatively affected the financial conditions of the authority, as it is now paying 80 percent of the salary value of its 170,000 public employees.