BEIRUT: A new regulation issued Monday will penalize Lebanese taxi owners who rent their vehicles to Syrian nationals without proper documents, according to the head of the Public Transportation Drivers Union Marwan Fayyad.
“Implementation started this morning, and several taxis have already been stopped, and their owners were fined,” Fayyad told The Daily Star by telephone.
According to the regulation, taxi-owners caught engaging in the practice are to be fined LL800,000, payable to the prosecutor’s office, and be denied social security benefits.
“We have contacted the [National] Social Security Fund and demanded that all the benefits earned by the car owner be retrieved, starting from the date he enrolled,” he said.
Fayyad said a request had also been sent to the Justice Ministry to begin implementing the new regulation by appointing inspection committees to crackdown on Syrian taxi drivers.
“The Lebanese labor law bans foreigners from driving taxis unless they have residency and work permits, which is not the case here,” Fayyad said.
According to Fayyad, Lebanese taxi drivers are motivated to lend their vehicles to Syrian nationals because owners benefit financially from car rental fees while still receiving social security.
“The owner sits at home earning LL50,000 a day,” he explained. “Receiving benefits from the social security fund.”
“Lebanese renters cannot pay more than LL30,000 a day, so it’s more profitable to rent your car to Syrians,” he added.
Approximately 15,000 taxis are being operated illegally by Syrian nationals in Lebanon, Fayyad said. Working one shift each day and night, two drivers typically split the rental fee of one car, collecting more than any Lebanese driver could during his shorter workday.
Separately, Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi reiterated his call on all Lebanese firms and employers to give priority to Lebanese citizens over other nationalities for job opportunities.
In comments made by phone, Azzi stressed that he was merely reminding employers of the Lebanese labor law and not enacting new policies.
“All we did was implement old decrees,” he told The Daily Star.
“Because many ministers who assumed the post before me did not respect the law, either for political reasons or because of security-related pressures,” he explained.
In the light of a rising unemployment rate, he explained, the ministry saw the stricter implementation of the existing law as vital.
“How can you accept that 36 percent of Lebanon’s youth are unemployed?” he asked.
“The unemployment rate has increased by 20 percent since the Syrian refugees flooded Lebanon,” he said, adding that the high rate of skilled Lebanese moving abroad for work was related.
Lebanon’s labor law clearly states that priority should always be given to Lebanese citizens in the employment process.
In Article 17 of a governmental decree issued on Sept. 18, 1964, the work permit of any foreign worker would be eliminated if they “harm the interest of the Lebanese working hand.”
This is especially the case if an employer does not give employment advantage to Lebanese workers.
“This is a Lebanese national and human right,” said Azzi, a politburo member of the Kataeb Party.
Overcrowding in the labor market paired with deteriorating economic conditions have left companies no choice but to replace Lebanese employees with cheaper Syrian labor.
Having fled their embattled country, where a civil war has been raging for over three years, Syrian workers are accepting lower wages and inferior work conditions than their Lebanese counterparts.
In this vein, Azzi said the ministry had received many complaints from former Lebanese workers enraged that they had been sacked for less expensive Syrian workers.
“In accordance with the Lebanese labor law, we refer such complaints to the general prosecutor’s office, which makes the necessary arrangements,” he added.
Referring to how the Labor Ministry would go about monitoring the implementation of the law, Azzi said there were no special committees to serve the purpose, but that the ministry would communicate with other departments and security officials.
“We cannot monitor all the companies in Lebanon,” he said. “But we can either accept or reject new employment [papers]. And sometimes, we can raid companies to make sure they conform to the law.”