Israeli and Palestinian transport unions have forged a groundbreaking cooperation agreement at a special meeting held under the auspices of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF).
Around 20 Israeli and Palestinian transport union representatives met together in Limassol, Cyprus on 31 July – 1 August as guests of the ITF’s Cypriot affiliate the Federation of Transport, Petroleum and Agricultural Workers. There they discussed common issues such as collective bargaining, delayed payment of wages, loss of union membership and the increasing outsourcing of work to contractors.
They agreed to establish a joint liaison committee to provide a mechanism for dealing with practical problems faced by transport workers in the region and for building trust between Israeli and Palestinian transport unions. In particular the committee aims to deal with the difficult and sensitive issue of the problems faced by Palestinian transport workers at military checkpoints. This is a major concern for Palestinian drivers who complain of too many checkpoints and unnecessary delays.
The Israeli Histadrut transport union says it is committed to trying to help where it can play a positive role. The committee intends to set up a process for dealing with incidents on a case by case basis and the Palestinian union will set up a telephone “hot line” for drivers. Relevant cases will be handled in coordination with the Israeli union. It was agreed that the Israeli union would request the Israeli security services to participate in the committee’s work when issues such as checkpoints and barriers are under discussion.
This agreement was set out in a joint declaration signed by Avi Edri Chairman of the Histadrut Transportation Workers’ Union; Naser Yunes, President of the Palestinian General Federation of Transport Workers Unions and David Cockroft, ITF General Secretary.
According to ITF President Randall Howard who chaired the meeting: “The participants were remarkable for their commitment to getting a job done which they believe will not only bring real benefits for transport workers, but in a small way set a direction for building wider trust and cooperation. People did not agree about everything, there were some raw and difficult moments, but they agreed to respect each other and try to work together. This joint declaration is, in my view, a remarkable achievement and a dramatic leap forward in defending and advancing the interests of Palestinian and Israeli transport workers.”
During the meeting Naser Yunes welcomed the declaration. He said: “The priority was to deal with transport workers’ problems. We have to show our members that such initiatives can work. I believe that by working together we can really bring real and practical improvements for trade union members.”
Avi Edri added: “We are very serious about this cooperation. I believe we can make a real difference working together.” Both union leaders called on the ITF to maintain its role in supporting this initiative. Meanwhile David Cockroft committed himself to visiting both unions during the next 12 months. The declaration commits both unions to regular meetings of the joint liaison committee.