Middle-East

Israel's treatment of Palestinian workers denounced at UN meeting

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Israel's treatment of Palestinian workers, under scrutiny for decades by the UN labour body, has increased since the October 7 war.

The head of the International Labour Organisation on Thursday criticised the decimation of Palestinian workers' labour rights since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and called for an end to new restrictions blocking them from working in Israel.

Israel's treatment of Palestinian workers, under scrutiny for decades by the UN labour body, has increased since the October 7 war with criticism focused on more than half a million job losses and Israel's exclusion of some 200,000 Palestinians from Israel for security reasons.

"This has been the hardest year for Palestinian workers since 1967," ILO Director-General Gilbert Houngbo told the Geneva meeting, referring to the date of the war when Israel seized the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

Labour rights had been "decimated", he said in a speech presenting an ILO report on Palestinian working conditions, while asking Israel to reopen its labour market.

His call was echoed by Palestine's Minister of Labour, many diplomats from countries including Egypt and workers' groups. One became emotional describing conditions in Gaza where more than 36,000 people have been killed in Israel's military operation, according to Gaza health authorities.

At the same meeting, dozens of delegates later walked out of the UN meeting room as Israel outlined its position.

Israel's delegate Yeela Cytrin blamed the exclusion of Palestinian workers from Israel on Hamas, saying they had targeted commuter routes on and after the October 7 attacks where 1,200 Israelis were killed and over 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies.

"The path to improving labour conditions does not lie in blind condemnation of Israel," she said of the meeting.

The ILO, one of the oldest UN bodies created after World War One, aims to promote compliance with international labour standards. While its report is an annual event since 1980 it is the first time the body has made prescriptive recommendations.

One of them, besides the call for Israel to reopen its labour market, is for the ILO to play a role in Gaza's recovery by helping with job creation and social protection schemes for workers. "The simple fact that the Palestinian people can have decent jobs back, it would help with the healing," Houngbo told Reuters.

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