AMMAN, 27 May 2009 (IRIN) – A pay dispute between employees and the management of the UN agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA) in Jordan could affect vulnerable refugees, especially in the many UNWRA-run schools and clinics.
Thousands of UNRWA employees went on strike 12-14 May in UNRWA facilities, members of the teachers committee who declined to be identified, said, and an all-out strike – potentially paralysing hundreds of clinics and schools across Jordan – is being threatened.
The employees are demanding a 7 percent pay rise, in line with a promised government pay rise of the same magnitude for civil servants.
During the three-day strike, about 124,000 students in different parts of the kingdom, including all 10 of the UNRWA-run refugee camps, were unable to attend classes, according to UNRWA.
The strike involved about 10,000 workers, including teachers, doctors, sanitation workers and administration officials, teachers committee members say. However, some media reports put the figure at 7,000.
Health centres and refuse collection activities also came to a halt, and the alleyways of the al-Hussein-camp in Amman filled up with rubbish during the three-day strike.
One of the disgruntled teachers, Salem (not his real name), said he was also a refugee and deserved a “decent salary”.
“People used to envy us. due to the good salaries, but as the years passed by and inflation ate into our pay, people began to pity us,” he told IRIN.
Salem shares his two-room concrete home near the centre of the al-Hussein-camp with his wife and eight children. He said he had no option but to strike: “The salary is barely enough for 10 days. What to do for the rest of the month?”
UNRWA provides services to Palestinian refugees who arrived in Jordan after the 1948 and 1967 wars with Israel. Together with their offspring, they now number nearly 1.8 million.
UNWRA “needs time”
Meanwhile, UNRWA officials in Amman said the strike, which came less than a month after a one-day work stoppage for the same reason, was “futile”.
UNRWA spokesman in Amman Matter Saqer said he was “concerned about the fate of tens of thousands of students as well as beneficiaries of health care in the camps and outside.”
“We made all possible efforts up to the last minute to avert the strike. We did not want this to happen, but schools were closed and health care clinics stopped working,” said Saqer, stressing that the UN agency never ignored its workers’ demands, but “needs time”.
According to officials from the Department of Palestinian Affairs (DPA), which manages the affairs of the 1.8 million Palestinian refugees, UNRWA needs urgent financial assistance to implement its programmes and increase its budget.
UNRWA’s camps contain 338,000 registered refugees, while the total number of registered refugees in Jordan is 1,951,603.