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UNRWA workers strike to press for raises, benefits

By Laila Azzeh - Apr 30,2012 - Last updated at Apr 30,2012

AMMAN — UNRWA workers across the Kingdom held a work stoppage on Monday, bringing the refugee agency’s operations in Jordan to a standstill.

The work stoppage is part of series of measures that heads of the agency's workers councils have threatened to take in protest against their administration's "refusal" to meet their demands, which include a JD100 salary raise for all employees retroactively from the start of this year without any cut to their allowances.

The councils are also demanding 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, according to representatives of the councils, who staged a sit-in at the agency's headquarters in Amman last week.

In a statement issued on Sunday, UNRWA's administration said it "regrets" the decision of the staff unions to go on strike yesterday, which it said would affect the services provided to Palestinian refugees residing in the Kingdom.

"We appeal to the unions to call off this action and to respond to the management's repeated requests, which have not been met so far, to hold meetings to resolve outstanding issues so that we can continue to serve the Palestinian refugees without interruption," the administration stressed in the statement.

However, representatives of the workers' councils said they had met with the agency's human resources director, Carolina Moussa, but that the meetings had "failed to reach a compromise".

"Workers are calling for their rights and yet they were not given any hope that their demands would be met, at least in the near future," said a source from one of the councils, who declined to be named because "he represents all the workers' councils".

He added that the administration could have "reacted before the work stoppage" and tried to reach a compromise with the workers before "letting things get to this point".

The source said UNRWA workers should enjoy more benefits and incentives on equal footing with public sector employees, to enable them to face rising costs of living.

Anwar Abu Sukainah, a public information officer at UNRWA, noted that the escalation had affected 117,000 students enrolled in 174 UNRWA-run schools.

"The measure also harms patients in the agency's healthcare centres, which receive around two million patients each year," Sukainah told The Jordan Times.

A source close to the administration told The Jordan Times earlier that the salary gap between UNRWA and public sector workers should ideally stand at 21 per cent, due to the fact that the latter enjoy more benefits, such as scholarships and makrumas or Royal grants, but now stands at 6 per cent.

The source said UNRWA was conducting surveys to determine the salaries of its employees and compare them with those of public sector staff.

"The survey started in February. The administration announced that some of the results would be announced at the end of May, while the rest would be unveiled in July, which is why employees thought that the administration was procrastinating," added the source, noting that the agency’s budget for Jordan increased by JD16 million this year.

"This increase will go to improving the quality of UNRWA services," said the source.

With about 7,000 UNRWA employees in Jordan, council representatives admit that the escalation will negatively affect the daily lives of Palestinian refugees in Jordan, who number 1.5 million.

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