RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah on Wednesday met with an official for the UN agency for Palestine refugees to discuss an ongoing general strike by the agency's Palestinian employees, officials said.
In his Ramallah office, Hamdallah spoke with UNRWA Commissioner General Filippo Grandi about the urgency to reopen UNRWA schools, which have been closed for 36 days due to a teacher strike.
The "crisis" in UNRWA schools threatens the future of 300,000 students, Hamdallah said.
Grandi said UNRWA is committed to supporting the education sector in Palestine, and is working hard to end the teacher strike.
The two also spoke of the Palestinian Authority's role in ending the strike and reopening schools.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Ma'an that Grandi "briefed the prime minister on the devastating impact that the unions' actions have had" on Palestinian refugees.
Hamdallah "was entirely in agreement" that the unions' actions were devastating, Gunness said.
"Over 51,000 students are at risk of losing the school year," he said. "That's a very serious threat if you are a parent or a student."
Teachers for UNRWA schools across Palestine have been on strike for over a month, demanding an increase in salaries.
He said an across-the-board pay increase is not feasible given that UNRWA workers' salaries are already "20 percent above" salaries for equivalent positions in the West Bank, according to UNRWA's payment policy.
"If we abandon our pay policy, our donors will get very upset," Gunness said.
However, he said that UNRWA had agreed to "find a solution to (the) problem" of 55 employees who were laid off in late 2013, 27 of whom began hunger strikes over a week ago.
The meeting between Hamallah and Grandi comes of after more than a week of protests against UNRWA across the West Bank and Gaza.
Children from Bethlehem's al-Azza refugee camp late Tuesday set fire to a line of tires, closing the main road into the West Bank city, in protest of the continued closure of schools. Demonstrators called on UNRWA to hold negotiations with the teachers and reopen the schools.
Meanwhile, at least 27 former UNRWA employees continued their hunger strikes in protest of UNRWA's dismissal of 55 employees in late 2013.
Gunness told Ma'an on Thursday that the employees who were on hunger strike were temporary employees whose contracts were not renewed. The funding that provided those employees with salaries had been cut from $40 million to $25 million, he said.
UNRWA is the UN agency originally set up in 1949 to ensure relief and development for the Palestinian refugees expelled from what became the State of Israel in 1948.
Today, the agency provides health care, education, social services, and other forms of aid to nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees.