A Nation Living Day to Day

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Workers from Électricité du Liban (EDL) stage a protest demanding full-time contracts. (Photo: Marwan Bu Haidar)

By: Mohammad Zbeeb

Published Thursday, May 31, 2012

To hire by the day, to work by the day, to live day by day; that is the life of a day worker, a person who works by the day. A contractor hires a day worker, uses the worker for the day, hands out work day by day and pays by the day.

That is the situation of most Lebanese people and not just Électricité du Liban (EDL) (Electricity of Lebanon) contract workers who have been involved in one of the longest-lasting labor uprising in the past two decades...

The authorities in Lebanon, both actual and symbolic, exercise politics as “contractors.” The state has managed to turn a broad segment of the Lebanese residing in Lebanon into contract workers that have to live day by day, with no prospects, ambition, security or a minimum sense of dignity.

Some might think there is no clear grounds for this comparison between most Lebanese and the contract workers who are rising up. Perhaps if we recount some of the similarities, we’ll have a clearer picture.

Half of the Lebanese residing in Lebanon, just like contract workers, are not covered by any healthcare system. That is more than two million Lebanese (in addition to the non-Lebanese residing in Lebanon) who could die outside a hospital or a clinic everyday because they are denied care. They have to beg this or that person everyday for their basic right to receive healthcare.

The government refused to discuss a project for universal health coverage proposed by former Labor Minister Charbel Nahhas shortly before his resignation that would be funded by the state budget. The excuse for this refusal was that the Ministry of Health and Social Security are part of the Speaker of the House Nabih Berri’s share in the pie and he can not concede his share while the shares of other political forces remain in place!

Keep in mind that three quarters of the labor force in Lebanon is not covered by a pension plan. These people along with their families lose their health coverage when they reach retirement age . They become an added burden on the family provider who has, yet again, to beg this or that person for their basic rights and to insure the means of their survival day by day as is the case with contract workers at EDL and other state institutions and departments.

One hundred percent of people residing in Lebanon do not receive any form of unemployment benefits. Half of the youth (between 18 and 35 years old) have to emigrate in search of a decent or even an indecent work opportunity.

A good percentage of the rest has to beg this or that person for a job. They become day workers or hourly workers or contract workers often through twisted means and irregular methods that have contributed to destroying the public administration and state institutions.

Another considerable chunk of people takes up arms with or without pay and while another does marginal work at security companies, nightclubs, bars and valet parking.

The rates of salaried work in formal sectors have declined to less than 29 percent of the labor force in Lebanon. Half of the labor force lives day to day as contract workers. In addition, more than 19,000 people enter the labor market every year a rate that is estimated to continue for the next 10 years.

To absorb new entrants into the labor market, the economy should create more than five times the number of jobs it is creating now. The economy, which the authorities defend and shield with their last breath, provided only 3,400 new jobs yearly between 2004-2007.

There are thousands of day and contract workers at the Lebanese University, public schools, Internal Security forces, ministries, funds, and governmental and non-governmental organizations as well as hourly workers in the state administration, institutions and facilities.

They represent an image of a society subjected daily to all kinds of intimidation, domestication, defeat and humiliation.

But instead of turning all that into a strong incentive for demanding a better state, the opposite happens. Just like it is happening today with EDL, the suggested solution is often a weaker state. A state where hallucinations of privatization take hold and threaten hundreds with losing their livelihoods.

It is true that a large number of the state’s contract employees and day workers are under-qualified. They are people who were brought on board by their political patrons when they occupied ministries and institutions after the Taif Agreement and the process of absorbing militias into the state.

But this reality does not change the fact that the chances of these people finding jobs with comparable conditions to what their current jobs provide are miniscule. This in turn presents the government with a responsibility beyond searching for cosmetic solutions.

It not possible to face this complicated situation except through conceding a little personal interest for the sake of the project of rebuilding the state, restoring its legitimacy and creating an economy that does not conscript all of society in the service of a minority benefiting from it.

Mohammad Zbeeb is the Economy editor at Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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