A significant issue for the native Syrian population as a result of the Israeli occupation has been the violation of Syrian workers’ labour rights. During the 1970s, existing trade unions in the Occupied Syrian Golan, such as the Farmers Trade Union, were banned by the Israeli military due to their links to Syria, and later attempts to establish grassroots organisations in their place were prohibited.
Since the purported annexation of the Occupied Syrian Golan by Israel in 1981, Israeli civilian law has applied to the region. However, during this period, there have not been any initiatives from the Israeli authorities to ensure that the Syrian population was made aware of their fundamental human rights (and how to protect them), including labour rights, according to Israeli civilian law or international law.
Given its relatively small size and marginalisation as an occupied people, the Syrian population in the Occupied Syrian Golan is very interconnected. Therefore, many workers work for friends or family members, which fuels a culture in which workers do not necessarily wish to complain about violations of their rights, in case it creates a problem within the community or, simply, that they will be fired from their jobs given that the contractual arrangement could be an informal one. Those Syrian workers wishing to complain about violations of their rights lack free or affordable legal advice and representation.
Finally, the situation of Syrian workers and the Syrian population of the Occupied Syrian Golan overall, has become more precarious due to the ongoing conflict in Syria. Previously, the Syrian government was able to provide financial support for the Syrian population in the Occupied Syrian Golan, for example, by providing higher level education for free in Syria or buying workers’ products – mainly apples – at guaranteed advantageous prices.
The overall result is that the majority of Syrian workers suffer from violations of their basic labour rights. Al-Marsad implemented a small scale pilot project in 2015 to examine the situation. Through the implementation of the pilot project, Al-Marsad assessed that nine in ten workers have either no awareness or very little awareness of their labour rights. This is part of an overall context in which the Arab population in Israel suffers from endemic discrimination in the workplace. For example, according to figures from the Asssociation for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) 60% of Israeli Jewish employers refuse to apply laws that prohibit discrimination against Israeli Arabs in the labour market, and that Israeli Jewish workers earn approximately one-third more per hour than their Israeli Arab peers.
In 2016, Al-Marsad initiated a project to raise awareness on labour rights in the Occupied Syrian Golan, and provide legal consultations and representation to Syrian workers who believe that their labour rights have been violated.