Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has suspended a controversial social security law that sparked widespread protests and strikes from workers and businesses across the West Bank in recent weeks.
Abbas said in a decree on Monday that dialogue would continue over the disputed parts of the law, which aimed to get private-sector employees and businesses to contribute to a social security fund that would finance pension benefits.
Critics of the law had argued that a seven percent tax to cover the mandatory social security fees would cripple Palestinian families that are already struggling to make ends meet in the faltering, Palestinian economy under Israeli occupation.
The minimum wage in the occupied Palestinian territories is around $400 (1,450 shekels) per month.
“If the government wants to enforce this social security law, they should raise the minimum wage,” Muhammad Zghayyer, a spokesman for a committee of activists who organised protests against the law, said after a strike in January.
Shops in several West Bank cities shut their doors on 15 January in protest of the new tax, while activists organised numerous demonstrations demanding the law be overturned.
“In Palestine, we have low wages and high costs of living,” Mohammad Taamram, a chef who works two jobs in the West Bank told MEE last week. “How can we think about social security when we’re just trying to put food on the table?”
The law, which was signed by Abbas in 2016, had yet to go into effect, but earlier this month Palestinian companies with more than 200 employees were required to register to join the Palestinian Social Security Corporation (PSSC), as dictated by the legislation.
Palestinian officials had promised to make changes to the law to address some of the critics’ concerns. Majed el-Helo, who oversees the PA’s social security programme, said earlier in January that “major amendments” had been introduced to the law.
He told Palestinian news agency Wafa that social security benefits will extend to the widows of pensioners after their death – no matter how the person dies, easing concerns by families of individuals killed by Israel.
He also said that the PA was working to offer low-interest loans from the social security programme to companies that meet certain criteria.
Still, the purported reforms did not quell the public protests, leading to Abbas’s executive order on Monday.
“Dialogue continues between the relevant parties to this matter to reach national consensus on the rules and date for the application of this law,” Abbas’s decree reads.