In the Kingdom of Jordan, conflict erupted in the Palestinian refugee community, but it’s not the kind of unrest you might expect in a society of survivors of war. The protesters were employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA). They launched a strike to press for fairer wages and working conditions, which led to a sit-in at the agency’s Amman headquarters and affected a workforce of about 7,000 that provides health, education and social services to a Palestinian refugee population of about 1.5 million. The dispute was apparently just settled, following “mediation” by the Jordanian government, with a deal for a pay raise of about $70 (USD).
The local press reported earlier that the representatives of UNRWA workers’ councils had issued further demands, including “promotions for teachers, directors and supervisors and the filling of vacancies in all the agency’s sectors, as well as the improvement of UNRWA employees’ work conditions.”
In a way, this was a classic labor conflict between a public agency and workers in a relatively poor country. But UNRWA is a unique international bureaucracy, with a global budget crisis intertwined with the politics of the conflict-ridden regions it serves.
UNRWA in Jordan faced a similar strike over pay rates in 2008. In Gaza last fall, the agency was besieged by calls for a general strike by the Local Staff Union of UNRWA in Gaza City. More than 240 schools in Gaza were affected by protests against the suspected politically motivated suspension of union head Suhail Al-Hindi. Teachers were among the most vocal protesters:
Hamas sources said the UN agency had accused Hindi of meeting with Hamas political officials.
Buses took some 7,000 teachers employed at UNRWA-run schools to UN headquarters in Gaza city where they held a sit-in, calling for an end to “UNRWA political punishment of employees.”
“Death rather than humiliation” read a banner held by striking teachers. “Deception, lying and hypocrisy have become the core values of UNRWA,” read another.