Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Nabil Qassem

Is Labor Day celebrations ringing hollow in your country?

Labor Day was first celebrated in the USA and was led by women workers. The Soviet Union made this celebration a world event (for workers), which forced the USA to shift the day to November?

Even current Russia reverted to communist zeal during this year celebration.

The celebration was crushed in Turkey.

The women in Bangladesh led the celebration in an angry demonstration demanding better and safer clothing factories (last year, over 2,000 girls died under the rubble).

Hong Kong workers were demanding reduction in the proposed tax increase.

And what the Lebanese were demanding? Everything, even respect for the Syrian workers in Lebanon and domestic maids.

Samya KullabJustin Salhani published in the Daily Star this May 01, 2014

Lebanon Labor Day celebrations ring hollow

BEIRUT: Tailor Nabil Qassem makes 35-40 shirts a week, each one costing $50. The need to find his monthly rent of $1,000 will bring him into work on Labor Day, a national holiday falling on May 1 that is meant to honor workers.

Qassem, 40, has worked in his Hamra shop for the past four years. Before that he worked in someone else’s store.

Workers carry wood for burning ahead of Labor Day in Zahrani, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)
Workers carry wood for burning ahead of Labor Day in Zahrani, Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

Unlike the small businesses and informal sector workers who spoke to The Daily Star, Qassem maintains the importance of the holiday in principle, though he doesn’t plan to take the day off and celebrate.

For him, Labor Day “is just one of those holidays like Mother’s Day. … We have to make a living.”

Many private sector workers blamed the precarious security situation for their inability to make ends meet in the past six months. Their plight has highlighted the absence of a comprehensive social assistance plan from the government, especially for workers in the informal sector, who often live on unpredictable wages month to month.

“We are in a very bad situation,” says electrician Ghassan Bedran.

“In the last 6-7 months, business has been reduced 50%.

Bedran’s shop in Mar Mikhael, Beirut, brought in $10,000 per month last year. Now, it barely earns $4,000. “And they want higher wages,” he says, glancing at his handful of employees.

“If we give them higher salaries, we will have to close our doors.”

Bolstering the strength of unions to lobby for worker’s rights, such as the General Labor Confederation, would not make a difference either, the disillusioned Bedran says.

“All unions are political. They use workers and laborers for their own interests.”

Despite widespread disenchantment, gains for labor rights are looming on the horizon, especially in the area of social protection, according to the International Labor Organization.

Pension reform has long been a contentious issue, and last year – before the Cabinet was demoted to caretaker status – it was within reach for private sector workers, with a draft law devised by the government, the ILO and the World Bank.

Lebanon is one of the few [countries] that does not have a pension scheme for private sector workers in place,” said Ursula Kulke of the ILO.

Currently, Lebanon operates an end-of-service indemnity program under which retirees receive a one-off payment amounting to one month for each year worked.

The amount was deemed insufficient to cover monthly living expenses and family support upon death. The draft scheme, stalled after the government changeover, would transform lump-sum payments into a monthly pension, guaranteeing individuals social security for the remainder of their lives.

“We hope we can continue discussions with the minister of labor and other responsible people in the Cabinet so we can proceed and so that hopefully in the near future there can be a pension scheme that provides regular benefits and income replacement to retirees,” Kulke said.

Nevertheless, Kulke said there was a pressing need to secure those who are not covered by the National Social Security Fund. Though private sector employees are insured under the NSSF, those working for the informal sector have no insurance apart from ad hoc payments and government cash transfers.

“What we would like to see is the real establishment of a social protection floor for these people so they can enjoy minimum income security,” said Kulke.

“The government is trying to do much already, but it’s become a big challenge with the Syrian refugees.”

Former Labor Minister Charbel Nahas said politicians could better protect informal sector workers “by implementing laws and improving those laws.”

“Labor law and social security laws are not applied,” he told The Daily Star, citing the example of Spinney’s, a supermarket chain accused of penalizing their employees for trying to unionize, among other alleged infractions.

Spinney’s CEO Michael Wright took Nahhas to court last year after the former minister addressed the issue in the media and likened Wright to a “terrorist.”

Nahhas added that the creation of unions in the public sector and restoring the union movement was important to keep power out of politicians’ hands.

Meanwhile, in the bustling district of Burj Hammoud, jeweler Raffy Bablanian worries about how to keep his family business afloat.

It’s not just the loss of revenues due to the security situation that worries him.

“I learned how to make jewelry from my father 45 years ago, and I thought I would do the same for my son, but he doesn’t want to do this job,” he says despondently. Business is never okay these days, but Bablanian has found ways to manage.

To find someone in the family to carry on with the jewelry-making tradition in the age of “computers and iPads” is another challenge altogether, he says, adding: “You can’t fix lack of inspiration with a wage hike.”

 A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 01, 2014, on page 4.

Read more:
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::




June 2023

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