Speaker Nabih Berri gave the green light on Tuesday for a long-awaited solution to state-run Tele-Liban, saying that he had “no problem” with ending the employees’ collective bargaining agreement.
Berri’s comments came as TL’s employees union met to plan a response to the government’s plan to merge TL with other state-run media.
Berri is seen as the main political backer of the station, through ensuring the hiring of a number of employees, although other politicians have played similar roles in recent years.
The union appeared to take issue with Information Minister Ghazi Aridi’s high media profile in recent weeks as he discussed the government’s plan to restructure TL.
In a statement, the union openly asked Aridi for a detailed explanation of the phrase “stop (TL’s) collective bargaining agreement,” a policy endorsed at last week’s Cabinet meeting.
The union also convened a general assembly on Sunday to discuss the matter with the rank-and-file at the station, which employs over 530 people.
A union source indicated that while the union would not object to a radical restructuring, it was angered by the course of dialogue with officials so far.
“It all concerns the vagueness surrounding halting the collective bargaining agreement,” the source said. “Contacts with officials haven’t helped us understand the government’s exact position. Also, under agreed-upon labor practice, one side can’t abrogate the contract without the other’s agreement.”
The source insisted that the union be a partner in negotiating the restructuring, fearing that a government committee would arbitrarily choose the employees who would be asked to stay on.
The union is expected to go along with the restructuring as long as the government scrupulously applies the contract regarding compensation.
The source remarked that “obviously, those who are dismissed should receive their compensation, and those who remain should have their (compensation) rights preserved under the new entity.” This procedure is stipulated in Part Two, Paragraph Five, of the 1989 agreement.
“What we’re worried about,” the source continued, “is dealing with us in two groups.
“They will let some of us go, while for those who are asked to stay on, the government will delay their legitimate compensation indefinitely. After all, only LL30 billion has been allocated in the budget for TL, indicating that they don’t intend to pay everyone’s compensation.”
Besides the end-of-service compensation package under the National Social Security Fund, TL employees receive two months’ salary per year of service for up to 15 years.