Court orders dismissed Palestinian union organizer be returned to work

The management at a West Bank auto repair shop tried to paint Hatem Abu Ziadeh as a ‘security threat’ for organizing workers. After seven months of stalling, an Israeli court finally orders he be compensated and brought back to work.

Hatem Abu Ziadeh (Photo courtesy of WAC-MAAN)
Hatem Abu Ziadeh (Photo courtesy of WAC-MAAN)

Jerusalem’s Labor Court ordered a Palestinian union leader who had been dismissed from his job be returned to work on Wednesday, after he was fired for organizing workers at a West Bank automobile shop.

The ruling by Labor Court President, Judge Eyal Avrahami, was handed down a year and a half Hatem Abu Ziadeh was fired from the Tzarfati automobile repair shop, seven months after the case summaries were handed over to the court, and one day after I published an article on the court’s stalling.

Abu Ziadeh, a 45-year-old Palestinian from the Nablus area, worked for the auto repair shop, located in a West Bank industrial zone, for 17 years. In 2013 he led the unionization of workers at the shop alongside with the help of Ma’an Workers Advice Center (WAC). In the summer of 2014, during the last war in Gaza, Abu Ziadeh was fired for numerous reasons, the most alarming was that he was a “security threat” who sabotaged a military vehicle that was being fixed in the shop, such that he was putting soldiers’ lives in danger. The police found that the claims were baseless, yet Abu Ziadeh could not return to his job.

WAC turned to the Jerusalem Labor Court and asked to rescind the dismissal. On Thursday, after a year and a half in which Abu Ziadeh sat at home with no real source of income, the court ruled that he must be permanently reinstated.

In his ruling, Judge Avrahami harshly condemned the shop’s management, blaming it for falsely accusing Abu Ziadeh of committing a security offense. “This issue makes one question the real basis for his dismissal,” wrote Avrahami.

Employees at the Zarfati Garage in Mishur Adumim vote to strike on July 22, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Ma’an workers union)
Employees at the Zarfati Garage in Mishor Adumim vote to strike on July 22, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Ma’an workers union)

According to the ruling, the managers of Tzarfati “accused” Abu Ziadeh of handing out Palestinian flags and maps of Palestine to his fellow workers, although this was never proven, “and even if proven, their significance would be unclear. It seems that raising them before us was intended solely to tarnish Hatem’s image and deny him legitimacy,” wrote Avrahami, adding that his pre-dismissal hearing was done unlawfully.

Avrahami also notes the importance of returning Hatem to work, as well as compensating him for his dismissal. The judge also wrote that the shop’s management has used various means to prevent unionization over the past few years, including through making workers sign papers canceling their union membership, openly condemning the union, and even filing a complaint against WAC head, Assaf Adiv (the police did not open a case and even apologized the Adiv).

The court found that Abu Ziadeh’s dismissal was meant to harm the unionization process while there was a crisis in the collective bargaining process with the workers.

WAC demanded that Abu Ziadeh be compensated for the wages he lost during his time away from work, and that the shop pay NIS 200,000 in compensation for sabotaging the unionization. The court will discuss the demands on February 29.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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