a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of private-sector workers to form and join trade unions, bargain collectively, and strike but places restrictions on these rights. The Ministry of Labor must approve the formation of unions, and it controlled the conduct of all trade union elections, including election dates, procedures, and ratification of results. The law permits the administrative dissolution of trade unions and bars trade unions from political activity. Unions have the right to strike after providing advance notice to and receiving approval from the Ministry of Interior. Organizers of a strike (at least three of whom must be identified by name) must notify the ministry of the number of participants in advance and the intended location of the strike, and 5 percent of a union’s members must take responsibility for maintaining order during the strike.
There are significant restrictions on the right to strike. The labor law excludes public-sector employees, domestic workers, and agricultural workers. Therefore, they have neither the right to strike nor to join and establish unions. The law prohibits public-sector employees from any kind of union activity, including striking, organizing collective petitions, or joining professional organizations.
The law protects the right of workers to bargain collectively, but a minimum of 60 percent of workers must agree on the goals beforehand. Two-thirds of union members at a general assembly must ratify collective bargaining agreements. The Association of Banks in Lebanon renewed the collective sectoral agreement with the Federation of Lebanese Bank Employees Unions on December 6 after nearly three months of mediation between the two parties led by the minister of labor. The Association of Banks in Lebanon had initially refused to renew the agreement.
The law prohibits antiunion discrimination. Under the law, when employers misuse or abuse their right to terminate a union member’s contract, including for union activity, the worker is entitled to compensation and legal indemnity and may institute proceedings before a conciliation board. The board adjudicates the case, after which an employer may be compelled to reinstate the worker, although this protection was available only to the elected members of a union’s board. Anecdotal evidence showed widespread antiunion discrimination in both the public and private sectors, although this issue did not receive significant media coverage. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the most flagrant abuses occurred in banking, private schools, retail businesses, daily and occasional workers, and the civil service. Prime Minister Hariri warned civil servants in May against striking or expressing their opinion about the national budget discussions.
By law foreigners with legal resident status may join trade unions. According to the ILO, however, in practice most unions do not encourage or accept the participation of foreign workers. The migrant law permits migrant workers to join existing unions (regardless of nationality and reciprocity agreements) but denies them the right to form their own unions. They do not enjoy full membership as they may neither vote in trade union elections nor run for union office. Certain sectors of migrant workers, such as migrant domestic workers, challenged the binding laws supported by some unions by forming their own autonomous structures that acted as unions, although the Ministry of Labor has not approved them.
Palestinian refugees generally may organize their own unions. Because of restrictions on their right to work, few refugees participated actively in trade unions. While some unions required citizenship, others were open to foreign nationals whose home countries had reciprocity agreements with Lebanon.
The government’s enforcement of applicable laws was weak, including with regard to prohibitions on antiunion discrimination.
Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining were not always respected. The government and other political actors interfered with the functioning of worker organizations, particularly the main federation, the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers (CGTL). The CGTL is the only national confederation recognized by the government, although several unions boycotted and unofficially or officially broke from the CGTL and no longer recognized it as an independent and nonpartisan representative of workers. Since 2012 the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), a grouping of public and private teachers as well as civil servants, played a major role in pushing the government to pass a promised revised salary scale, largely overshadowing the CGTL. While the UCC is not formally recognized by any government body, it acts as an umbrella organization and guides several recognized leagues of workers in demonstrating and in negotiating demands. During the 2019 national budget debate, both CGTL and UCC failed to successfully take leadership of worker protest actions or to coherently voice the demands and aspirations of working people. CGTL was further weakened when in January union president Antoine Bechara was interrogated by the ISF Anti-Cybercrime Bureau over a complaint filed by Minister of Economy Raed Khoury. In May, Bechara was arrested and pressured to resign after a video was leaked showing him insulting and making offensive comments against the late Maronite patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir. The National Federation of Workers and Employees in Lebanon emerged as another alternative to represent the independent trade union movement.
On April 30, health workers at Saida Public Hospital began a strike that lasted four days, demanding payment of overdue salaries and denouncing the lack of basic materials in the facility. Police used force to end the strike and arrested the leaders of the trade union committee. Antiunion discrimination and other instances of employer interference in union functions occurred. Some employers fired workers in the process of forming a union before the union could be formally established and published in the official gazette.
There was widespread anecdotal evidence of arbitrary dismissals of Lebanese, and their replacement by non-Lebanese, across economic and productive sectors. This action was mainly in the form of Syrian refugees allegedly replacing Lebanese in some sectors. There were no official statistics to quantify the scale of these dismissals.