Lebanon News

Fate of union boss sways in political wind

Embattled General Labor Confederation president Elias Abu Rizk remained defiant Wednesday, with his future as a labor leader ­ in the GLC and at Tele-Liban ­ depending increasingly on government action.

The Labor Ministry has yet to endorse the results of last week’s meeting at GLC headquarters, where a majority of executive council members deposed Abu Rizk as president and set March 15 as the date for new elections.

Ministry approval, and its sending delegates to observe and certify any new poll, is crucial for a new president’s legitimacy.

Two items appear to be in Abu Rizk’s favor ­ the vagueness of GLC by-laws and the government’s reluctance to act in a GLC-related dispute.

A Labor Ministry source said that the awaited endorsement would be issued “soon” and denied that it involved government interference.

Observers and GLC sources maintain that Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is adamant that the government not get involved ­ a GLC in its current state of paralysis is the best possible scenario for a government anxious to move forward on privatization, reducing social security payments by firms and amending the labor law.

The ministry source, however, denied that action by the government meant it was siding with Abu Rizk’s opponents.

“It’s about implementing the law, no more,” the source said.

At a news conference Wednesday, Abu Rizk repeated earlier criticism that Speaker Nabih Berri was behind the GLC’s woes and responsible for “permitting his group, which had been preventing a quorum, to return and attend meetings.”

Using terms certain to inflame the situation even further, Abu Rizk repeatedly condemned what he called “militia behavior,” a reference to Berri’s Amal Movement.

Abu Rizk maintained that his ouster, which saw 44 out of 74 council members secure a quorum for the first time in months, was flatly illegal and warned the Labor Ministry not to endorse the results.

He cited articles of the GLC’s by-laws and addressed Berri to support his argument.

“We’d like to ask Speaker Berri: do MPs have the right, as either an absolute or two-thirds majority, to convene without being invited to do so by the speaker?” Abu Rizk asked. “Do they have the right to vote the speaker and Parliament’s administrative bureau out of office before the end of their terms?”

The by-laws, which were approved during Abu Rizk’s current term but before the latest crisis, are unclear. They make no provision for unseating a president, only expelling a given confederation from the GLC.

Abu Rizk distributed a sheaf of documents at the news conference, including an opinion last year by the Justice Ministry’s Legislation and Consultation Department.

The opinion maintains that because the labor law lacks clear provisions on voting union officials out of office, the relevant by-laws should determine what happens.

A labor official who opposes Abu Rizk acknowledged that last week’s meeting was “illegal,” but said that the Justice Ministry opinion could be interpreted two ways.

“In one sense, it implies that we look to the GLC’s by-laws, which don’t mention unseating a president. However, the opinion clearly recognizes that unseating officers possible, just as it is in any group or association.”

But the GLC leader, in releasing the Justice Ministry report to the press, apparently inadvertently leaked information about his own fate in labor.

Another section of the Justice Ministry opinion replies to a Labor Ministry question about whether a labor official can remain in office if he no longer plies his trade ­ a situation facing Abu Rizk with the temporary closure of TL, whose union he heads.

The opinion says that continuing in one’s profession is a necessary condition for membership in a union.

Ironically, as the bitter struggle within the GLC continues, the group’s delegates on the board of the National Social Security Fund managed to meet just hours after Abu Rizk’s news conference.

The delegates, who include both pro- and anti-Abu Rizk members, issued a statement saying that they would continue to oppose a recent proposal to cut subscriptions by firms.





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