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UNRWA workers suspend strike as negotiations continue

By Ana V. Ibáñez Prieto - May 22,2018 - Last updated at May 22,2018

AMMAN — Workers at UNRWA General Presidency and Field Office in Jordan suspended a planned open-ended strike scheduled to begin on Monday.

The decision came in light of the “rapid developments” following the escalating measures aimed to sustain and improve employee and retiree benefits, according to a statement issued by the protesters. 

The shift in the employees’ approach began on Sunday evening after several workers at the agency ended a nine-day hunger strike, responding to mediation efforts.  

The Lower House’s Palestine Committee and its chair Yahya Saud pledged on Sunday to follow up on the demands of the workers stressing the deputies’ “understanding of the strikers’ requests after the reduction of the agency’s services to the Palestinian refugees”, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported. 

In their statement, protesters stressed the importance of “ensuring the continuation of the negotiations between the agency’s staff unions and UNRWA’s administration, allowing for the government and the parliament to pressure the agency to respond to the workers’ demands”. 

For his part, spokesman for hunger strikers Abdullah Abu Al Sammin pointed out that “the agency’s administration is still required to bear the increase in the new health insurance premiums and allow the return of UNRWA’s retirees to their previous status, and to improve the staff’s living conditions.”

In a previous statement sent to The Jordan Times, UNRWA officials clarified that “while UNRWA understands the economic conditions and the high cost of the employee, it should be noted that the agency bears the burden of additional expenses in light of the most unprecedented financial crisis in the history of the agency”.

“UNRWA did not consider leaving the staff and their families without proper health insurance, and the linkage between the austerity measures of the agency and the aforementioned health insurance is unfair and baseless.”

During the recent mediations between the House’s committee and UNRWA’s Director of Operations in Jordan Roger Davis, Saud presented the requests of the protesters, calling on the agency to “exert more efforts and responsibilities towards the Palestinian refugees” and to not reduce its services, explaining that “this adds new burdens on the government at a time when the Kingdom is facing enormous economic challenges”.

In this regard, the MP suggested the formation of a committee aimed at finding solutions to the situation, stressing that it should include members of the parliamentary panel, along with representatives of UNRWA. 

For his part, Davies presented the steps that UNRWA is taking in order to address its financial deficit, stressing that the agency would continue coordinating with donor countries in order to bridge the gap and “carry out its duty towards the refugees”.

Earlier this year, spokesperson for the UNRWA Sami Mshasha warned that the agency may stop providing its services in all of its operating areas in September due to its chronic financial crisis, affecting the nearly 2 million refugees currently based in Jordan.

Asked about the impact of UNWRA’s financial crisis in the Kingdom, Davies said that “at stake is the education of 122,000 children enrolled in 171 schools around the country, as well as the education of around 4,000 young men and women enrolled in our two vocational centres and teachers training college.”

UNRWA’s financial crisis deepened after US President Donald Trump cut aid to the relief organisation in January of this year.

Although not officially declared by the US administration, the cuts come after the Palestinian leadership refused to meet US Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the region and rejected any future role for the US in the peace process following US President Donald Trump’s decision in December last year to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, Trump said: “When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them, and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support, tremendous numbers, numbers that nobody understands — that money is on the table and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace.”

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