Lebanon News

Labor minister proposes plan to crack down on undocumented workers

Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman speaks during an interview in Beirut, May 30, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohamad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman Monday launched a plan to tackle undocumented foreign labor in Lebanon and sent a draft of it to Cabinet’s secretariat to be put on the agenda, he announced during a news conference.

The plan contains 13 measures to combat unauthorized labor, which Abousleiman said has “many negative repercussions on socioeconomic security” and forces young Lebanese people to choose between “unemployment and migration.”

Abousleiman put particular emphasis on the Syrian refugee population in Lebanon, of whom he said “hundreds of thousands are competing with Lebanese” for jobs.

According to the latest Labor Ministry figures, he said, just 1,733 Syrian nationals were in possession of a legal work permit, which he described as a “drop in the ocean” of actual working Syrians.

The minister said that employers will have one month, beginning June 10, to comply with the labor law and ensure that all employees have the necessary documentation.

To ensure private and public companies hire only employees with a labor permit, the minister proposed the activation of an inspection mechanism and an interministerial committee to follow up on inspections and labor violations.

In addition, Abousleiman proposed raising the fine for illegally hiring foreign workers to LL5 million ($3,300), as well as closing down shops owned or rented by non-Lebanese nationals without a permit.

The launch of the plan came just a few days after the Economy Ministry and security forces began a campaign to close down Syrian-run shops, entering premises and demanding to see employees’ documentation.

However, he stressed that the plan to crack down on undocumented workers was “far from racist” and in fact “helps safeguard the rights of foreign workers.”

Although Abousleiman focused on what he says are the negative impact Syrian refugees have had on the Lebanese labor market, the International Labor Organization found in 2015 that even before the war in Syria, as many as 300,000 Syrian workers were employed in Lebanon, working mainly in construction, agriculture and service jobs, many of which were seasonal.

What's more, the ILO noted that the presence of Syrians in Lebanon had brought increased demand for goods and services in local markets so that "at least some of the jobs occupied by Syrian refugees did not come at the expense of Lebanese workers."

In addition to the measures designed to monitor and follow up on undocumented labor, the minister said that foreign nationals could apply to open businesses legally, as long as their staff was 75 percent Lebanese and “their contribution to the state,” or initial start-up capital, was at least LL100 million.

 

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