UNRWA workers protest forced leave without pay, raise cancelations

1 UNRWA protest
UNRWA workers are pictured at a sit-in held on Monday to protest the agencies plans to make workers take unpaid leaves amid a budget shortfall. (Photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
AMMAN — Dozens of workers from UNRWA held a sit-in on Monday for an hour, after they said that their demands have not been implemented.اضافة اعلان
The sit-ins came after it was announced that employees may be forced to take “special leave” without pay for the months of November and December, due to a shortfall in UNRWA’s budget. 

Head of the UNRWA workers union, Riyad Zygan, stated that UNRWA runs 165 schools and 50 facilities in Jordan, including a health center, a district office, transportation office, and two community colleges.

He stressed that there are about 7,000 female and male employees who work at UNRWA Jordan, and 125,000 students are enrolled in UNRWA schools and universities.

Zygan said that statements made by the commissioner-general have “raised terror in the hearts of refugees and staff alike.”

“We are now in a dead end with the agency’s management; the door for discussion has not been opened with the workers’ union,” he said.
UNRWA faces an “existential threat” and is mandated to aid and protect about 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees. Its financial deficit currently amounts to more than $100 million.

The union has demanded the abolition of exceptional leave without pay, adding that the salaries for the months of November and December cannot be cut or delayed, even for one day.

He also added that putting the staff on compulsory leave without pay means the suspension of all UNRWA services, placing blame on any cut in services on the agency’s management.

Several UNRWA employees said that the small numbers of protesters that showed up was due to fear of retaliation.

In addition, a group of UNRWA employees were upset about a delay in their salaries and the cancelation of their raises, saying that they were optimistic about their sit-in and stressing that they would continue to escalate in the event of non-response.

Zygan said that the union had appealed to the Minister of Education not to allow any students to be transferred to government schools in the event that UNRWA schools were closed, so as not to contribute to siphoning away UNRWA students and teachers, and thus switching the burden to the Jordanian government.

Head of the House’s Palestine Parliamentary Committee, MP Mohammad Al-Thahrawi, said that the committee is applying pressure and will not hesitate to stand with Palestinian citizens in its parliamentary capacity.
“We are not only with the agency’s employees, but with Palestinian citizens in supporting their causes,” he added.

Sami Mshasha, UNRWA’s media spokesperson, said: “UNRWA is following the protests carried out by our workers with concern and interest in our five areas of operation, and we understand the workers’ demands.”

He explained that UNRWA has a major role in fulfilling its obligations towards its workers in light of the difficult economic and political conditions experienced by the refugees in the five areas of operation.

He added that the situation is getting worse due to the deteriorating financial situation of UNRWA.

He said that there have been attempts to address the situation by the Jordanian and Swedish government for several months, and that they have been working to prepare for an international conference that will be held in Brussels on November 16.

The conference aims to find long-term financing mechanisms for 2022.
He also said that the needs of refugees and their fall below the poverty line, as well as the repercussions of the pandemic are greater challenges than the amount of funds allocated.

He pointed out that while the US is once again donating, some countries have scaled back their funding, including Australia, the Gulf states, and the UK.
Mshasha commented on the sit-in, saying: “We are aware of the workers’ concerns, and the commissioner-general of UNRWA had indicated that if conditions improve in the agency, their issues will be addressed.”

“There is a call to return to the ‘negotiating table’ because the goal is to continue providing services to refugees,” he concluded.

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