The Palestinian workers reality in Lebanon



Maurizio Bussi is the current Italian director of ILO mission in Bangkok. During his career he spent several years in Beirut, capital of Lebanon.

ILO stays for International Labour Organization, it is a U.N. agency which aim is “to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programs promoting decent work for all women and men.” It has several missions set all over the world. One of the missions set in the most dangerous areas of the world is the one in Beirut, capital of Lebanon and it is considered one of the most productive ones.

Maurizio, you are part of the organization since the 2002. You have been sent to several missions and during your career you have been involved in different types of projects. What was, specifically, your task in Lebanon?

The organization’s aim is to carry dignity in the most disastrous laboral situation in order to guarantee a full respect of Human Rights. Specifically, in our missions, we focus on four goals: creating jobs, extending social protection, increasing social dialogue and guaranteeing rights for workers.

Personally, from 2010 t0 2013, I have been assigned a project regarding the improvement of access to employment and social security for Palestinian refugees. The Palestinian labour force gives a great contribution to the Lebanese production system: they represent the 10% of the consumption and a great percentage of the labour force. Their contribution to the economy dates back to 1948, year of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, when the first migration waves began. The task the project required was to guarantee protect Palestinian workers, as the majority of them are forced to work in the informal economy and in inhuman conditions. The goals were to  apply legislative and policy changes regarding the access to employment, social protection, and decent work, and to provide the basic information about workers rights among the Palestinian population.

Was your work in Beirut a practical or a coordinative work?

Actually, it was both. When working in an organization that deals with conflictive situations it is impossible to restrict the work remaining behind a desk: we had a lot of practical work which implied facing directly with situations.

What do you mean with “facing directly situations”? Can you mention an example?

For example we had to interview some Palestinian workers about their work conditions in order to show some real datas during the 105th International Labour Conference. We had to complete the information with reports about the conditions and we had to investigate in some of the factories.

Which are the condition that you found?

Most of the Palestinian workers are excluded from the health care coverage, only 5% of employed Palestinians benefit from this right. That is a consequence of the Labour Law, which stipulates that such benefits are only given to foreign citizens whose countries afford the same rights to the Lebanese: in the case of Palestinians this reciprocity cannot be applied.

From a contracts point of view, depending on the sector of working, we found out that just a 20% of Palestinian workers benefit from a written contract, while the remaining 80% have an employment based on oral agreements which usually leads to abuses by the employers.

Which are the sectors that present the highest percentage of violations?

Usually employed males are exploited in construction sites while women are more likely to be employed in enterprises, health and education. These two last sectors are the ones which the most respect working rights providing them written contracts and fair payment while enterprises usually abuse giving a low payment and making women work for more than 65 hours a per week when the Lebanese Labour Law limits the work week to 48 hours.

How do you think it would be possible to stop this type of abuse?

The first step is the awareness: once Palestinian people have information know which are their working rights they are more likely to recognize and, consequently, avoid the abuses. The ILO did it greatly: we started doing campaigns for Palestinian workers where we taught the fundamental rights collaborating with local NGOs, such as  Association Najdeh. We noticed that if we provide information to little communities this information spreads by itself leading Palestinian people to refuse inhuman employments. Starting from education we can change things: I had the possibility to confirm this theory thanks to my job.
This kind of situation is spread all over the world and not only in conflictive or poor territories: we find abuses everywhere, from Asia to Latin America and we all have to take part in the fight against this phenomenon. My advice is to start to have awareness of what is happening in the world and to avoid a superficial attitude. When we buy something, for example, we usually do not think about what there is behind a product, what it implies. We do not wonder about the situation of workers who made the product because it seems a far reality: we see the product and its material value, if the price is reasonable we simply buy it. We have the duty to stop and think deeper.

Costanza Scatigna


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