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From the field

Testimony: Exploitation of Palestinian laborers working in settlements in the Jordan Valley, November 2010

I live in al-Jiftlik. I finished high school last year and began to study at al-Quds Open University in Nablus. To finance my studies, I have been working as a seasonal agricultural laborer. There is no work available in my village, so I work at nearby settlements. I’ve worked at Ro’i, Massu’a, Argaman, Beka’ot, and Niran. Since the work is mostly agricultural, it is not regular and is seasonal. The employee’s rights are not protected, and nobody supervises the work conditions.

Over the years, I’ve worked at growing peppers, tomatoes, and dates. I’ve also worked in chicken coops. For a short time, I worked with a metal worker. I’ve worked in the date groves more than with the other crops. I got the work with the dates through a contractor from my village who works with the Argaman settlement. He transports 40-50 laborers to the kibbutz in his truck. Ten or so of the laborers sit in the front and the others sit in the rear cabin. He covers the rear cabin with rough cloth and closes the back door so that nobody will fall out.

By law, he is allowed to transport in the truck up to four passengers. He stays in contact with other drivers on the road, and in that way manages to avoid getting caught by the police. In the entire period I worked for him, he never got a ticket.

The last work I did was for a member of the Argaman settlement, where I worked in the palm groves. We cut the thorns with long knives, thinned out the dates, tied the clusters, covered them, and picked them when they were ripe. At the end of the season, we gathered the palm leaves. There was a crane to get us to the top of the trees. For the small palm trees, we used steel ladders. Some of the knives they gave us were old and in poor shape.

The day begins at 5:00 A.M. The contractor collects us and drives us to the worksite. We start work at six o’clock. We work six hours a day, not including a half-hour break for breakfast, meaning we work six and a half hours. We receive 60 shekels* a day. Some laborers, who work for other employers, earn 53 shekels, and the permanent laborers earn 65-70 shekels, depending on seniority and type of work. A skilled laborer receives 70 shekels. We are not paid for days we don’t work, and if we work half a day, for whatever reason, we get paid half a day’s wages.

We aren’t paid on a regular basis, but ultimately I always get my pay. We are not insured for work accidents, and we don’t get severance pay or other compensation when the work ends.

Despite these conditions, I have to work and will continue to work with the same employer or for someone else. I have no option. After all, 60 shekels is better than nothing.

* The minimum wage at the time this testimony was given was  NIS 20.70 per hour

Walid Khalil Abu Shahin, 20, is a laborer and a resident of al-Jiftlik in Jericho District, the West Bank. His testimony was given to 'Atef Abu a-Rub on 7 November '10 in al-Jiftlik.