UNRWA calls on West Bank Staff Union to end strike and stop intimidating staff who wish to work

12 April 2023

Ongoing strike for fifth consecutive week has severe consequences on the health and education of Palestine Refugees


 UNRWA staff who have expressed their commitment to carry out their work must be able to do so freely in the West Bank. They are however being prevented from working through threats, intimidation and force by local staff union members, including through forced shutting down of premises, threatening phone calls and public statements. As UNRWA initiated plans to open several health centres across the West Bank, threats from the staff union that any involved staff would “bear the consequences of this dangerous act [resumption of work]” circulated on social media networks. Some Agency staff are now requesting to be protected while working.

It is appalling that West Bank Area Staff Union (ASU) representatives have opted for the tactic of spreading threats and fear. By doing so, they are actively preventing pregnant women and elderly Palestine refugees from seeing their doctors in UNRWA health centres.   It is irresponsible to close schools and impede learning because of a work dispute, to over 45,000 children, many of whom already suffer from learning loss incurred during COVID-19.

It is even more shocking and unprecedented that staff working for a UN Agency delivering humanitarian services are the ones actively denying basic rights to a community that has been deprived of fundamental rights for decades.  

Since the West Bank local staff union declared a strike on 4 March, critical services to nearly 900,000 Palestine Refugees across the West Bank have been suspended, with children excluded from schools, patients prevented from accessing basic health services and medicines in the Agency’s health centres. Hundreds of tons of solid waste has piled up in refugee camps, causing serious risks to the public and environmental health of the communities in the camps and surrounding areas.

Years of chronic underfunding have depleted the Agency’s resources and led to the deterioration of the quality of its services. With classes of 50 children and medical visits lasting less than three minutes, the UNRWA senior management has long warned the international community of the impact of underfunding on the wellbeing of Palestine refugees and staff.

The Agency started this year with debts amounting to US$ 75 million and anticipates a substantive funding shortfall against its budgetary requirements. The West Bank union is demanding a pay increase while UNRWA staff salaries are already on average 12 per cent above those of the Agency’s comparator, the Palestinian Authority (PA), and above the PA’s inflation-related salary increases. The salaries of UNRWA staff - such as the educators, teachers, health and sanitation workers, protection teams and other service providers - use 85 per cent of the UNRWA annual budget.   

An increase in salaries and benefits - beyond the comparator- of US$ 55 million in 2019 for staff has left the Agency in continued deficit ever since. The only way to increase pay in the West Bank today is to cut services and cut jobs, both of which would severely impact the services and the refugees, something that the UNRWA management is determined to avoid. 

In summary, the ASU is demanding a pay increase even though the salaries are already above the pay policy and even though the Agency has no money to pay.

The senior management of UNRWA has extensively engaged in dialogue with staff union representatives with the aim of improving staff conditions of work as much as the resources allow. However, increases should not come at the cost of the services provided to the communities or job cuts.

UNRWA and its staff across all the fields of operations are determined to continue to deliver services, despite these threats and efforts to undermine the future of the Agency including its ability to deliver on its mandate. UNRWA calls on the ASU to end the strike and to stop intimidating those colleagues who are working to deliver services to the communities in line with the United Nations values. More than ever, we must strike the balance between the right to strike, the right to work and the right of Palestine refugees to access basic services.

Background Information: 

UNRWA is the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East. The United Nations General Assembly established UNRWA in 1949 with a mandate to provide humanitarian assistance and protection to registered Palestine refugees in the Agency’s area of operations pending a just and lasting solution to their plight.

UNRWA operates in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, The Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

Tens of thousands of Palestine refugees who lost their homes and livelihoods due to the 1948 conflict continue to be displaced and in need of support, nearly 75 years on.

UNRWA helps Palestine Refugees achieve their full potential in human development through quality services it provides in education, health care, relief and social services, protection, camp infrastructure and improvement, microfinance, and emergency assistance. UNRWA is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions.


For more information, please contact:

Juliette Touma
UNRWA Director of Communications
+962-79-867-4628 (on what’s app)
Secondary mobile: 
+972 54240-2753
Tamara Alrifai
UNRWA Spokesperson/ Director of External Relations & Communications
+962 (0)79 090 0140