BEIRUT: The conflict between Spinneys and two expelled employees will be resolved by the Labor Court, Minister Salim Jreissati said Thursday, adding that the request for the formation of a union was under study in accordance to legal procedures. Asked whether Spinneys’ dismissal of its employees Milad Barakat and Samir Tawq violated the labor law, Jreissati told The Daily Star the company had the right to fire employees for union activity but said a final decision on the issue would be taken at the court.
“If the court finds they were fired based only on their union activity, this would qualify as arbitrary layoffs and the employees would be eligible for compensations,” he said.
Jreissati stressed his ministry was dealing fairly with all parties, adding that he had not blocked a request filed by a number of Spinneys employees to form a union. “We are waiting for permission from the General Security and we will proceed with the application.”
Jreissati confirmed that Spinneys had implemented a wage increase decision, which was due last February, after mediation by his ministry.
The International Labor Organization confirmed that it had verified infringements by the company before it issued a statement voicing support for the workers last week.
The statement by the International Labor Office, the Geneva-based permanent secretariat of the ILO, denounced Spinneys Friday for what it described as “denial of employees’ rights to organize and retaliatory steps against unionists.”
Calling on the Lebanese government to enforce the international labor conventions it has signed, the ILO demanded the reversal of two layoffs and a “guarantee [of] employees’ rights to organize and collective bargaining.”
In an interview with The Daily Star, Michael Wright, the CEO of Spinneys, said that former Labor Minister Charbel Nahas was behind what he described as a baseless politically driven campaign against the company.
“Charbel Nahas is waging a campaign against Spinneys to advance his own political agenda,” said Wright.
Accusing Nahas of supplying the ILO with false information that led to the statement, Wright insisted that the dismissals of Tawq and Barakat had nothing to do with their union activity.
Barakat’s dismissal, Wright said, had been the result of a series of violations that he had committed during his employment that “should have led to his dismissal a long time ago.”
“Milad Barakat was terminated for gross misconduct and he has been protected by ‘wasta’ [nepotism] to date, but for which even his wasta cannot cover his recent behavior,” Wright told The Daily Star in an emailed statement.
The dismissal document provided by Spinneys cites 11 different warnings given to Barakat from 1996 up to 2010. The Daily Star cannot independently verify the authenticity of these violations and whether Barakat was responsible for them.
Asked whether the company would engage in dialogue with the two workers to settle the conflict, Wright denied any such intention. “We have nothing to discuss with them. Tawq was dismissed for not showing up for work and Barakat was dismissed for a long series of violations,” he said.
Meanwhile the “Friends of Spinneys Workers,” a group of activists supporting Tawq and Barakat, hailed as a victory Thursday “the company’s acceptance to register part-time workers and porters at the National Social Security Fund.”
Spinneys has previously said it pays all NSSF dues for part-time workers, but the Fund’s own regulations prevented the employees from benefitting from its services.