From Adel Abu Nima and Nidal Al-Mughrabi
TUlkarm, West Bank (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Palestinians working in Israel staged a one-day strike on Sunday to protest the decision to pay their salaries into bank accounts rather than cash.
The new payment method has been agreed between the Palestinian and Israeli authorities who are looking for a more efficient and secure way to pay salaries, but workers fear that hidden fees and new taxes will cut their wages.
Some 200,000 Palestinians cross each day into Israel or Jewish settlements in order to work, earning on average more than double what those who work for Palestinian state bodies and companies.
Most workers do not have bank accounts, and putting their salaries on record would create a new source of income for the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, while bringing windfall gains in service fees to Palestinian banks.
Under the arrangement, salaries will be paid weekly with a $1 bank fee set for each transfer, according to several workers who spoke to Reuters.
Palestinian Labor Minister Nasri Abu Jaish said the new arrangement aims to protect workers’ rights and that there is no plan to impose new taxes.
An Israeli Defense Ministry official said the measure would allow for an adjustment period until it takes full effect on Jan. 1. “This will boost the Palestinian economy. It will have many positive effects such as ensuring that workers’ pensions are paid by Israeli employers and reducing black money.”
The Palestinian Authority, which has limited autonomy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is responsible for about 150,000 public sector jobs in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Its budget was $330 million for 2021 and relies heavily on foreign donors.
Muhammad Khasib, 43, who works in an aluminum factory in Israel, said he and thousands of others were protesting the decision, which he said was reached without taking workers’ opinions into account.
“They decided without consulting the labor union,” Khasib said. “Either the worker agrees or he loses his work permit.”
Basem Al-Wahidi, a 55-year-old construction worker, said that in addition to losing money for bank fees and taxes, there was concern about other deductions being made.
“We refuse to transfer our salaries to the Palestinian Authority banks because we fear the future and there is a crisis of confidence,” Wahidi said.
Workers’ representatives said that if the decision was not reversed, they would escalate their protest and may declare an open-ended strike.
(Additional reporting by Mayan Lobel in Jerusalem; writing by Nidal Al-Mughrabi from Gaza; Editing by Philippa Fletcher)