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Exclusive – Lebanese Minister: Govt. Must Tackle Wrongful Dismissal of Workers over Economic Crisis

Exclusive – Lebanese Minister: Govt. Must Tackle Wrongful Dismissal of Workers over Economic Crisis

Monday, 25 November, 2019 - 07:30
Anti-government protesters shout slogans during a civil parade at Martyrs' square, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Nov. 22, 2019. (AP)

Thousands of employees have complained of wrongful dismissals or salary cuts in wake of the deteriorating and unprecedented economic crisis plaguing Lebanon.

Caretaker Labor Minister Camille Abou Suleiman told Asharq Al-Awsat that his ministry had received a huge number of complaints from employees.

The ministry is aware of the situation and it is holding several meetings to provide facilitations to companies to avoid the dismissal of workers.

Sarah, 32, is one of thousands of people whose salary has been halved in violation of her work contract.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, she said that along with other workers, her employer forced her to sign an agreement that says she accepts being paid half her wage and working on a part-time bases. All 250 employees now work part-time. The agreement covers November and December.

“The move was a shock to all employees. Some of them have a family and children to support and school tuition fees and loans to pay. We had no other choice but to sign the agreement,” she said.

Head of the General Confederation of Workers Union Maroun Khawli said that in addition to the salary cuts, hundreds of employees have been wrongfully laid off.

In a statement, he criticized the Labor Ministry for failing to intervene to protect the people.

Abou Suleiman did not disclose how many requests his ministry had received from employers seeking to dismiss their staff.

“We must cease such actions and work on finding a solution,” he added. “We are holding regular meetings to seek ways to ease the burden on institutions in order to avoid their closure.”

The Lebanese Labor Law stipulates that an employer can dismiss workers due to “pressing, economic or technical reasons.” He must, however, inform the Labor Ministry of such a decision a month in advance for approval. The ministry, in turn, holds discusses with the employer on the circumstances of each employee, such as their age, how long they have been working with the company and their social and marital status.

Among the solutions being studied is the possibility of delaying social security payments, which would help ease financial burdens on employers.

Abou Suleiman called on employees to file complaints to the labor arbitration council, remarking that a salary cut remains better than dismissal.

He slammed the government for failing to tackle this issue, saying: “The constitution stipulates that a caretaker cabinet must meet to follow up on extraordinary cases. What more are they waiting for?”

Khawli echoed this demand, urging caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri to call for a cabinet meeting that would order a suspension of wrongful dismissals and prohibit the halving of salaries that have been imposed since October.

Lebanon has faced five weeks of anti-government protests, fueled by anger at corruption among the sectarian politicians who have governed Lebanon for decades.

The daily protests led to Hariri’s resignation last month. Politicians have failed to agree on a new cabinet since, despite a rapidly deteriorating economic crisis.

The unprecedented nationwide protests were triggered by proposed new taxes, including on the use of the WhatsApp mobile app. They came on the heels of an austerity budget that cut public spending, pensions and employee benefits to tackle the deepening economic crisis.

They have since evolved into calls for the entire political class to leave.

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