AMAN recommends approval of a consolidated law to regulate national trade union activity

AMAN recommends approval of a consolidated law to regulate national trade union activity

To strengthen governance, effectiveness and sustainable operations of grassroots associations and trade unions,

AMAN recommends approval of a consolidated law to regulate national trade union activity

Ramallah – Via Zoom and Facebook, many representatives and members of various grassroots associations and trade unions, researchers and journalists met in a seminar. Held by the Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN), the discussion addressed a draft study, titled Governance, Integrity, Transparency and Accountability in Functions of Grassroots Associations and Trade Unions in Palestine.

The study is designed to contribute to immunising the integrity system and promoting effective operations of grassroots associations and trade unions. By identifying challenges to and gaps in legal, administrative and financial regulation, the study comes up with a set of recommendations to improve compliance with required standards, principles and systems of integrity, transparency and accountability. These and other requirements protect unions and associations against, and reduce their vulnerability to, potential corruption risks.

Researcher Mu’in Barghouthi presented the study, which he developed for AMAN. Building on an overall definition of grassroots associations and trade unions, the study diagnoses the constitutional, legal, institutional and regulatory settings, including the environment of transparency, integrity and accountability, within these bodies. According to Barghouthi, the study neither reviews the general policies, nor assesses the performance of relevant officials, of associations and unions.

Covering 23 trade unions and grassroots associations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the study establishes and applies 61 indicators to main subject areas. It includes a sample of grassroots associations of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) as well as in other sectors. These are the General Union of Palestinian Teachers; General Union of Palestinian Students; General Union of Palestinian Economists; General Union of Palestinian Expressionist Artists; General Union for Palestinian Writers; General Union of Palestinian Women; Palestinian General Union of People with Disability; Palestinian Journalists Syndicate; Palestine Bar Association; Engineers Association (Jerusalem Centre); Medical Association (Jerusalem Centre); Palestinian Contractors Union; Association of Palestinian Local Authorities; Federation of Palestinian Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture; Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees; Fishermen’s Association; Palestinian Medical Association – Gaza Governorates; Engineers Association – Gaza; Family Lawyers Association; Union of Public Employees; Palestinian Information & Communication Technology Association; General Union of Cultural Centres; and Gaza Municipalities Union.

Need for a law to regulate and standardise national union activity

The study comes up with several recommendations. Most notably, a law should be enacted to regulate PLO grassroots associations and establish rules for legal regulation, promoting a sustainable role of unions at the national level. Regulation will take account of international conventions, to which the State of Palestine has acceded, particularly those with relevant rules relating to the rights to trade union organisation and freedom of association without restriction. The study recommends that laws on union activity be consolidated in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the absence of a consolidated trade unions law, during the internal Palestinian political divide, regulations have emerged, further entrenching legislative duplicity. For example, while the Trade Unions Law of 2013 is solely applicable to Gaza, the Palestinian President has promulgated some laws by decrees that are in force in the West Bank only. The latter include the 2011 Law by Decree on Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

To enhance the institutional and regulatory environment, the study recommends that organisational structures need to be established and approved in some unions and associations, which continue to lack such structures to date. Organograms lay the foundations for sound management and improved services and activities targeting relevant audiences and members. General conferences should be organised regularly. Periodic elections will be held at higher representative bodies in many unions and associations. To avoid prolonged monopoly, chairs of many unions and associations should be renewed through free competition. In parallel, an annual exercise will provide assessment and review of activities, programmes, and projects to examine informed implementation, achievement of set goals, and ensure continuity of unions and associations.

To avoid conflict of interest, a procedure manual with clear tasks and roles will be developed

In its recommendations, AMAN placed a special emphasis on aspects that could promote systems of transparency, integrity, and accountability within trade unions and grassroots associations. To prevent conflicting roles and responsibilities, a procedure manual will be compiled, providing clearly defined and detailed roles of representative bodies and members. In many unions and associations, chief executive officers (CEOs) will be appointed to ensue separation of higher representative and executive levels, particularly where a chair or secretary combines executive functions with their own position. A real evaluation will cover the CEO or Director General by the board, association or trade union. In addition to an annual financial and administrative report, financial, administrative and procurement regulations will be in place in many associations and unions. These also need to adopt accounting programmes, job descriptions, and human resources manuals to strengthen and facilitate internal operations and processes.

Transparency and control improve effective operations of associations and unions

Recommendation also highlighted the need to launch websites, including the names and addresses of members. These will also provide access to all publications, which should be made publicly available. Many unions and associations need to develop periodic strategic plans, establish clearly defined mechanisms for the publication of tenders, solicitation documents, and employment advertisements. In most unions and associations, a written and public policy will be adopted, ensuring transparency, access to and flow of information. Meanwhile, a written policy will be approved to prevent conflict of interest. Drawn along the lines of clear mechanisms, another policy will outline the concept, prevention and reporting of corruption crimes at unions and associations. A written policy will also address the receipt of gifts. The Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission will rejuvenate the financial disclosure record. A clear mechanism will show how periodic reports are submitted by executive managements to boards. While a complaint handling system is in place, control and audit will be activated. In particular, the State Audit and Administrative Control Bureau will provide control over many unions and associations, which do not apply this procedure.

Supporting unions and associations with human and financial resources

AMAN’s study makes several recommendations, which would scale up union activity and ensure better representation at all levels. Most importantly, human resources should be increased at many understaffed unions and associations. Short human resources impede the effective implementation of activities and roles. Financial allocations should also be maximised due to a general lack of resources. Funded projects will be increased to serve the purposes and programmes of unions and associations. Estimated annual budgets will be prepared by most unions and associations. Membership fees will be enhanced and collected on a regular basis. It might be helpful to revise and develop these fees from time to time in consistence with the activities and services delivered by unions and associations to relevant members.

Consolidating the legal references of unions and associations is a collective quest

There was consensus among the participants that the study should cover other unions and associations, which reflect broad segments of Palestinian society, such as Palestinian labour unions and civil society organisations. Different legal references on unions will be consolidated and approved. Discussants also highlighted respect for Arab and international conventions, which safeguard the right to freedom of association. Working mechanisms will be established for control over unions and associations. A unified financial and administrative regulation will be approved to control the process. The electoral quota system should come to an end. The culture of integrity and transparency in internal elections of unions and associations will be promoted and disseminated. Finally, participants stressed that the study should include an in-depth investigation of stakeholders and members of unions and associations. Some differences should be taken into consideration, however. Unions and associations are heterogeneous and cannot be placed in one basket.