Palestinian Trade Union Leader Awarded in Oslo

Over 250 guests from Norway and abroad were gathered in Folkets Hus to witness the presentation of this year’s Arthur Svensson award. The award is given annually to union representatives who deserve recognition for their efforts, often subjected to threats, harassment and violence. This year the committee received suggestions of candidates from all the world’s continents.

This year’s award was given to Shaher Sae’d, secretary general of the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions (PGFTU). He has been the head of the Palestinian trade union movement for 19 years. Shaher Sae’d accepted the award himself in Oslo today.

“Everyday life in Palestine is characterised by frustration, insecurity and a lack of prospects. Israeli settlement on occupied land in Palestine is the main reason for the depletion of natural resources, limited liberty to move around and undermining of the industrial base in Palestine. The proportion of Palestine’s population under the poverty line is over 20 per cent, and almost 30 per cent have no work. In Gaza, unemployment is at almost 40 per cent. The main reason for this high unemployment rate is the Israeli blockade and the after-effects of the Gaza war. From the West Bank, the Palestinian population is having difficulty reaching the labour market, because they are dependent on Israeli ID cards and entry papers,” said Sande as he presented the award.

“We all need to support the unions in the area who want to build good and safe lives in the area, based on equality, respect and peaceful co-existence. The union movement in the Middle East must be given the opportunity to play an important part in the peace work in the region,” says Leif Sande.

The jury, which includes former LO presidents Gerd-Liv Valla and Yngve Hågensen, feel Shaher Sae’d has shown outstanding leadership of the Palestinian union movement, under very demanding political and financial circumstances. The political battle the candidate represents could easily be forgotten, and it has been important to the jury to highlight this work.

Under Shaher Sae’d’s leadership, PGFTU (the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions) has proven itself willing to have dialogue and has refused to isolate any Palestinian groups, including Hamas. Sae’d has also been in dialogue and cooperation with the Histadrut, the federation of trade unions in Israel.

“Sae’d has carried out his work at the risk of his own and his family’s safety and has been in jail a number of times. Despite this he has continued his work vis-a-vis the Palestinian self-government administration to improve the rights of Palestinian workers. He is awarded the 2011 Arthur Svensson International Award for Union Rights for his work for the Palestinian trade union movement and the rights of Palestinian workers, for his courage and not least for his ability to stand firm in this battle under extremely difficult political circumstances,” says Sande.

The Arthur Svensson International Award

The Arthur Svensson International Award is given to individuals or organizations who have made an exceptional effort to promote union work and union rights nationally and internationally. Last year’s award went to Wellington Chibebe, secretary general of the Zimbabwe Confederation of Trade Unions (ZCTU). The prize is NOK 500 000 and is awarded annually. The prize is named after the former secretary general of Norsk Kjemisk Forbund (the Norwegian Chemical Association), Arthur Svensson, who was especially interested in international politics.

The award committee is comprised of:

Leif Sande, Committee Chair (president, Industri Energi), Gerd Liv Valla (former LO president), Yngve Hågensen (former LO president), Randi Gabic Bjørgen (former president of the Confederation of Vocational Unions), Helga Hjetland (former president of the Union of Education Norway), Finn Erik Thoresen (Chairman of the Board of Norwegian People’s Aid) and Liv Tørres, formerly employed by Norwegian People’s Aid and currently political advisor to Minister of Labour Hanne Bjurstrøm.

The Committee’s statement:

Highlighting the political battle the candidate represents was an important factor in the choice of winner this year. Shaher Sae’d has shown outstanding leadership of the Palestinian trade union movement, at the same time as the political and financial framework has made this work especially difficult.

Continued focus on the Palestinians’ battle is important for the Norwegian trade union movement. For this reason, the Committee is of the opinion that an award to Shaher Sae’d and his work contributes to making this work visible at a time when the Palestinian battle is easily forgotten.

The Palestinian people have fought against occupation and for an independent state for over 60 years. Under the leadership of Shaher Sae’d, PGFTU has shown a will for dialogue and has refused to isolate any Palestinian groups, including Hamas. He has also been in dialogue and cooperation with the Histadrut, the federation of trade unions in Israel.

Sae’d has carried out his work at the risk of his own and his family’s safety and has been in jail a number of times. Despite this he has continued his work vis-a-vis the Palestinian self-government administration to improve the rights of Palestinian workers. He is awarded the 2011 Arthur Svensson International Award for Union Rights for his work for the Palestinian trade union movement and the rights of Palestinian workers, for his courage and not least for his ability to stand firm in this battle under extremely difficult political circumstances.

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