Tuesday, November 03, 2009

UNRWA responds, halfheartedly

In response to my inquiries about the UNRWA strike and the UNRWA teacher murdered in Ramallah, none of which is mentioned on UNRWA's website, I received this email from UNRWA:

On the strike. This is what we, as UNRWA, have to say:

“ UNRWA regrets the Staff Union's decision to suspend services in a staggered fashion to protest the alleged failure to meet a promise to improve end of service benefits for staff. In addition, the Staff Union are opting for disruption of much needed services to Palestinian refugees demanding an increase in salaries and other work benefits. UNRWA believes that these work stoppages are counter-productive, disruptive and sends all the wrong messages to refugees, donors and to the staff themselves. Staff Union demands come at a period the Agency is in dire financial straits struggling to meet the basic needs of the refugees with dwindling resources and a widening budget deficit. All indicators at hand clearly show that the salaries of its 30000 staff are well above the average salaries of the host countries' employees (the Agency's official comparators). UNRWA's comprehensive health insurance to staff, the generous provident fund and end of service benefits plus an annual salary increase is considered to be one of the most competitive in the region amongst the public sector employers. This costs huge amounts of money and the remainder goes to support the actual delivery of vital services to refugees. UNRWA calls on its staff to maintain dialogue with the Agency and not to deny refugees access to services.”


- John’s letter to staff is not out as far as I could tell. UNRWA will issue an official letter to its 30,000 staff in the five fields soon.

- On the staff member killed: No official statement. Do not know the details of his killing but it was not UNRWA related.
The statement on the strike mirrors much of what I had translated from the John Ging letter although it was not as detailed (and pointedly didn't mention the Arab countries' refusal to pay their pledges to UNRWA, a very significant admission.) It is not visible on the UNRWA website.

The response about the UNRWA teacher that was murdered is interesting. Although the murder is not UNRWA related, somehow I doubt that UNRWA would be silent if he was murdered by a random Israeli Jewish criminal.

Both of these incidents show that UNRWA will do whatever it can to downplay anything that makes the agency, or Palestinian Arabs, look less than perfect.