Last Updated: Thursday, 24 April 2014, 11:39 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Lebanon

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Lebanon, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea661fd1e.html [accessed 25 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 4,200,000
Capital: Beirut
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The authorities have broad powers to control trade unions. Many migrants, particularly domestic servants and Palestinian workers, lack trade union rights and are poorly treated.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

Trade union rights are not adequately secured, although a new draft amendment to the Labour Code would improve the situation somewhat. The law recognises the right of workers, except government employees, to set up and belong to trade unions. However, prior authorisation is needed from the Ministry of Labour in order to form a trade union. The Ministry also controls all trade union elections, including the date of the election, the procedure and the ratification of the results. Furthermore, unions are prohibited from engaging in any political activity, and the law permits the administrative dissolution of trade unions.

The thresholds for engaging in collective bargaining are high, and all collective agreements must be ratified by two-thirds of the union members at a general assembly. Although the right to strike is recognised, it is limited by the obligation to announce the number of participants in advance, as well as by the requirement that 5% of the union's members be given responsibility for maintaining order during the strike. The organisers of a strike must also sign a document whereby they assume full responsibility for all damages that occur during a demonstration.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: Political tensions in the country make it difficult to carry out trade union activity independently of political manipulation. Despite the good health of the banking sector some 28% of Lebanese live below the poverty line. While the right to strike is restricted, many workers went on strike during 2010, most notably teachers, pilots, taxi and bus drivers. General protests were also held by unions over the government's economic policies.

Government interference: The government has often interfered in trade union affairs, instigating or aggravating conflicts within the trade union movement. Senior politicians have managed to have their nominees placed on the governing body of the Lebanese General Workers Union (CGTL), causing friction within the union when it opposes government policy.

Migrant workers abused and excluded: Lebanon has an estimated 200,000 domestic workers, primarily from Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and the Philippines. The Philippines, Ethiopia and Madagascar now ban their citizens from travelling to Lebanon due to extensive abuses. It is estimated that one domestic worker commits suicide in Lebanon every week on average. They remain essentially outside of crucial labour laws and subject to exploitation and frequent abuse by employers and agencies including non-payment of wages, forced confinement to the workplace, no time off, and verbal or physical abuse. Reports estimate that only 1% of migrant domestic workers are allowed to keep their passports. The sponsorship system ties the worker's residency to a specific employer, making it very hard for a domestic worker to change employers, even in cases of abuse. Once employment is terminated the worker loses residency, making it difficult to file complaints because workers' fear detention owing to their illegal status.

The government issued new regulations (Standard Unified Contract) in 2009, requiring each employer to abide by a set of rules including paying workers their salary in full at the end of each month, providing weekly time off and setting a maximum number of working hours. However, the government has failed to take appropriate sanctions against employers who abuse migrant domestic workers, and in practice many employers continue to overwork, underpay and abuse their domestic workers. A demonstration was held by migrant workers in Beirut on Mayday 2010 to protest against the extensive abuse and the lack of labour rights.

Palestinians denied many rights: There are approximately 400,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, which accounts for 11% of the Lebanese population. Palestinians are not allowed to form trade unions, as there has to be a reciprocal arrangement with their home state. Previously Palestinian refugees had been severely restricted in the type of work they could obtain, but with the passing of a new law Palestinian refugees were guaranteed the same rights at work as other foreigners.

Pilots threatened: In April, pilots from Middle East Airlines staged a 24-hour strike in a bid to reclaim benefits lost nine years ago during extensive restructuring. The strike reportedly grounded 23 flights and some 5,000 passengers. The chairman of the airline threatened to file a lawsuit against the striking pilots, reportedly describing their act as "illegal and arbitrary" and costing the company around USD 800,000 per day. The chairman also accused the pilots of wanting unfair salary increases while the pilots have stated that they were seeking rights such as more days off and a higher starting salary.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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