By Simona Sikimic
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
BEIRUT: Recent labor reform laws that eased restrictions on Palestinians’ right to work are full of contradictions and will be difficult to implement in the future, a legal report released Tuesday has said.
Compiled by the Human Development Center, with support from the Canadian international development agency, the findings show that parliamentary legislation adopted in August is insufficient to alleviate the humanitarian concerns of Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon.
“What the law says is not clear and there are conflicts within the legislation,” said Suheil Natour, one of the senior authors of “Palestinians and Amendments to the Law of Labor and Social Security.”
“Before being implemented it could be sent back for explanation and then it will have to go through so many ministries,” he said.
“We all agree that what happened is a step in the right direction but is a limited step and it is not in itself enough to solve the issue of Palestinians and their rights.”
Palestinians have faced double discrimination, one as “foreigners” and the other as “exceptional foreigners” who do not have the same rights as other foreigners who wish to work. The country has made progress to get rid of the second category, Natour said, but must still work on the first.
Because Palestinian refugees are classified as stateless, they do not qualify under the reciprocity principle which permits employment for foreigners whose home countries extend the same privileges to Lebanese citizens. The recent legislative changes made several sectors open to Palestinians, but they remain excluded from dozens of skilled jobs, including banking and medicine.
Opponents of the right to work argue granting full privileges to Palestinians would significantly reduce the amount of jobs available for Lebanese nationals.
Joint findings from the EU and the American University Beirut released last week, however, showed the number of Palestinians in Lebanon is significantly lower than previously believed
In contrast to the 430,000 plus UN registered refugees, the report estimates numbers to be closer to 260,000 to 280,000 after taking emigration into consideration. Of these only 6 percent have attended university and only 120,000 are classified as being part of a potential “working population.”
“There are only some 100 Palestinian lawyers out of 3,000 Lebanese,” said Palestinian Ambassador Abdullah Abdullah. “Relatively I don’t think that their addition can have an impact or influence or that it would create any obstacles.”
The opening up of the labor market to professions and syndicates needs to be pursued more vigorously and the requirement to obtain work permits, which are expensive for employers and discriminate against foreigners, should be scrapped for Palestinians, Abdullah said.
“We have been subjected to a history of cultural terrorism for us and it has only one [heading]: ‘nationalization’” Information Minister Tarek Mitri, said at the launch of the report.
“When we talk about the right to work we often refer to [Palestinians being] a burden but this is not positive. We must switch burden with the notion of participation,” said Mitri. “The Labor Ministry has to prove that the jobs open for Palestinian people are not at the expense of the Lebanese workers.”