Calls to ban public employees from striking draw criticism

The private sector claims that public school teachers and civil servants are not authorized to striked The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban, file

BEIRUT: As Lebanon’s teachers and civil servants prepare for an open-ended strike starting Feb. 19, several sides have called on the government to implement a controversial law that bans public sector strikes.

The Economic Committees, a leading private sector group, led the calls to clamp down on the strike organized by the Union Coordination Committee, which demanded a new public sector salary scale that would beef up wages by at least $1.2 billion a year.

“The Lebanese government should restore the rule of law on unruly staff and enforce Article 15 of the Civil Servants Law that prohibits public employees from instigating strikes,” the Committees said in an economic proposal, submitted to Prime Minister Najib Mikati earlier this month.

The call for the implementation of the law has drawn criticism and a debate on whether the law conforms to the Constitution and international conventions signed by Lebanon.

Legal expert Paul Morkos said Wednesday the law not only prohibits strikes for public employees, but even restricts their freedom of expression by requiring, for instance, the approval of an employee’s manager before making public statements.

“The Lebanese law does ban public sector strikes, but this must be amended to conform to what Lebanon has pledged in the Constitution: to embody human rights in all aspects and fields,” Morkos said. “The law was put back in 1964 but it still exists and is enforced.”

Hanna Gharib, the head of the Union Coordination Committee, says his group is not concerned with the aforementioned law.

“Labor rights are a red line ... and that law is far, far behind us,” he told The Daily Star. “Let them [private sector] find something else to think about,” he added, vowing to step up protests in upcoming weeks.

While there is no mention of the word “strike” in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was signed by Lebanon, the document guarantees that “everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”

Lebanon has also signed the U.N. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which says the signatories of the conventions ensure “the right to strike provided that it is exercised in conformity with the laws of the particular country.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 07, 2013, on page 5.




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