Hamas warns of unpaid staff taking to streets

Pressure is mounting in the Gaza Strip for 42,000 employees who have not received salaries from unity government.

Hamas member Basem Naeem says the salary freeze could prompt 'extreme' reactions [Hosam Salem/Al Jazeera]

Gaza City – Thousands of former Hamas employees who have not received a salary in months will likely take to the streets if a solution is not found soon, a Hamas representative has warned.

Basem Naeem, a former health minister and prime ministerial adviser, told Al Jazeera that the status quo “cannot continue”, noting the pressure has become too much for many to bear.

“To cut the salary of anyone is like cutting his throat,” Naeem said in an interview at his office in Gaza City.

“There will be demonstrations… The police officer, or doctor, or nurse who is working day and night for nothing – you can’t expect them, at the end of six or eight months, to be calm and quiet. They will be angry and disappointed. They will act in more and more extreme manners.”

They are really suffering. Many of them cannot buy medication for their children when in need… Many are suffering debts at supermarkets, pharmacies.

by Basem Naeem , Hamas representative

His comments come just days after al-Araby al-Jadeed reported that Israel had scrutinised the list of unpaid employees and vetoed payment for more than 250 people with alleged connections to al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas.

In total, more than 42,000 former Hamas employees have not been paid in more than six months, and in some cases much longer.

Many expected that the situation would change after the Fatah-Hamas unity deal took effect in June. The new government was expected to pay out millions of dollars in salaries owing to Hamas employees, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) has yet to deliver.

The pay freeze affects a broad cross-section of workers, with a majority in the health, education and security sectors, Naeem said.

“They are really suffering. Many of them cannot buy medication for their children when in need… Many are suffering debts at supermarkets, pharmacies,” he said.

‘Have patience’

Naeem blames the politics of division between Ramallah and Gaza, but Mufeed al-Hasayneh, the public works minister with the new Palestinian unity government, says it is simpler than that: The money is just not available.

“We have to have patience. We can’t make it tomorrow… Maybe we’ll have good news in the future,” Hasayneh told Al Jazeera.

Complicating matters, employees in Gaza who predated the 2007 Hamas takeover of the territory have continued to receive a salary from the PA, albeit at a lower rate than staff in the West Bank, explained Jihad el-Guidi, a doctor at Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital. About 40 percent of Shifa’s staff fall into that category, while the rest have not been paid at all.

“They can barely manage to get the essential needs for life. It also reflects psychologically on their kids or wife when they cannot give them what they need,” hospital administrator Eyad Zatoot told Al Jazeera from Shifa’s rusting, decrepit emergency room.

For now, they will keep working, he added: “It’s a very stressful and tense situation, but they belong to this place.”

Follow Megan O’Toole on Twitter: @megan_otoole 

Source: Al Jazeera