A workshop to discuss a study “Evaluation of compliance with the minimum wage in the northern provinces (the West Bank)” .
May 20, 2015
The Institute of Women's Studies (IWS) at Birzeit University held, in cooperation with the German Friedrich Ebert Foundation, a workshop to discuss a study issued by the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) conducted by the researcher Bilal Falah entitled "Evaluation of compliance with the minimum wage in the northern provinces (the West Bank) ". In his study, the researcher addressed the mechanisms determining the minimum wage and to what extent the minimum wage is applied in the West Bank. He also discussed the most important underlying causes behind weak implementation of the decision based on the presented data. Falah reviewed a set of recommendations that, if implemented, should promote compliance with the minimum wage decision.
Eileen Kuttab, the director of IWS, addressed the economic policies’ aspect pointing that the concept of the minimum wage was one of the mechanisms brought in by capitalism to mitigate class differentiation which led to the increasing social polarization and economic alienation due to the adoption of the market as a model for “development” on the global level and in Palestine, as those policies have been based on growth, rather than on development or sustainable development. Kuttab said that in the Palestinian context, after the Oslo agreement, liberal economic policies that rely on market-based economy have been adopted; those policies aim to economic growth that serves the interests of some capitalists, rather than aiming to real development that can be positively reflected on the majority of the segments of the society, as these policies ignore the fact that we are under occupation and going through a period of national liberation. Kuttab considered that the minimum wage disguises the Palestinian economy whose distorted structure depends on the Israeli colonial economy, marginalizing the productive sectors, particularly the agriculture, that should have the priority since it plays an important role in promoting Palestinian’s steadfastness. She questioned the efficacy of enforcing the minimum wage decision and to what extent it could achieve social justice under the prevailing socio-economic system relying on market economy that excludes and marginalizes a large number of workers, especially young people and women. How can the “minimum wage” alleviate poverty when it is very low, as in the case in Palestine, and does not even meet the basic needs? Who, and how, defines the basic needs of the working class? To what extent can this decision improves the conditions of working women where the prevailing market discriminates against women and where in a tribal patriarchal social system women represent an unstable reserve workforce that is reduced to feminized economic activities. On the other hand, Kuttab considered that the minimum wage can be one of the strategic tools to reconcile provisionally in order to confront the distorting effects modify some of gender-based imbalances of labour market.
Then, Nidaa Abu Awwad (assistant professor in social Sciences & researcher in IWS) analyzed Palestinian women’s situation in labour market and focused on the link between the minimum wage decision and between gender and gender division of labour. She said that women are, in general, at the lowest level of the carrier ladder of the formal economy; thus, they are in the lowest level of the wage scale, compared to men, and they are in the informal economy at high rates, considering that informal economy doesn’t guarantee even the minimum wage. Abu Awwad considered that enforcing the minimum wage decision could help approve the situation of women, theoretically at least, considering that about one- third of working women get paid lower wages than the approved minimum wage and considering the gender gap. Abu Awwad concluded that applying the minimum wage decision in the case of women could be more difficult than in the case of men due to obstacles related to the culture and the economic structure and because of the fact that a large part of women are marginalized and cannot benefit the decision as they are not included in the labour law.
Rula Abu Duho (faculty member at IWS, Birzeit University) stressed that besides sex (male, female), the statistics included as well all class and geographic intersections in addition to employment sectors and so on; this is one of the study’s strengths as it presented women’s position in the labour market and it strongly confirmed that women are actually on the lowest level of the carrier ladder and in marginalized sectors. Abu Duho focused on the weakness of the study of being neutral in relation to the economic context, specifically when speaking about a Palestinian dependent and marginalized economy and about an unstable labour market in light of the colonial situation in which we live. She questioned the seriousness of the minimum wage decision considering the fact that both formal and public sector are represented equally to labour unions while the interests of either sides are not equal in reality. She also found the study determinants are problematic being limited within the West bank and it excludes the Israeli labour market as well as the labour market in Gaza where women’s situation is much worse. Abu Duho questioned to what extent the unions represent the real rights of the workers, especially when speaking about gender and she concluded that implementing the minimum wage system, in spite of the problems that surround it, is good and represents a kind of protection for women in the Palestinian case.
At the end of the workshop, the participants discussed the mechanisms of applying the minimum wage decision, and how to deal with the violations. Among the recommendations was promoting partnership and integration between social partners; raising awareness among employers and employees; organizing lobbying groups that provide community protection for marginalized people; and enforcing wages to be paid via checks rather than in cash.