Lebanon News

Lebanese fired for attending protests get free legal advice

There are currently no official numbers for cases of dismissals directly or indirectly resulting from the protests.

BEIRUT: Salah Nasser has struggled for years to provide for himself and his family. When mass protests swept the country, he joined his fellow citizens to demand that the government provide basic levels of social security for its people, including better salaries and job opportunities. Because of this, Nasser said he lost his job.

Nasser, 27, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, said he was fired from his job at a hotel in Beirut last week, where he had been working for three years as a busboy. He provides for his wife and his newborn son, and his meager salary meant he was already struggling to make ends meet even before his dismissal.

Nasser is hoping he can get legal assistance to receive the proper compensation from his former employer to support him while he attempts to find another job.

“I was barely surviving off my salary, how can I not demand better? It’s my right to be here, it’s my right and every Lebanese citizen’s right to protest against the corruption of this country,” Nasser told The Daily Star.

Lebanese labor law protects employees from “arbitrary termination” or expulsion by the employer. According to Article 50 of the labor law, dismissal or arbitrary expulsion is not permissible if an employee is participating in protests or cannot reach their workplace because of extenuating circumstances, including roadblocks due to the demonstrations. Article 50 also prohibits the deduction of vacation days should employees choose to go to the protests.

Nasser’s case is not the only one.

When Lebanese lawyer Maha al-Yafi made a Facebook post at the start of the uprising offering to defend for free any person wrongfully fired during the protests, she got dozens of requests for legal advice.

“Right now there are approximately 50 cases asking for legal advice ... most of the cases are [employees] from smaller companies,” Yafi said. “We are also seeing another problem emerge. Many are still employed but are not receiving their proper salary from their employers for the days they are not coming in,” she added.

There are currently no official numbers for cases of dismissals directly or indirectly resulting from the protests.

A spokesperson from The Legal Agenda said the NGO had received many calls from people seeking legal advice because they had been fired or had pay deducted because they went to the demonstrations instead of work.

Yafi is mainly helping citizens on a consultation basis because the ongoing protests have forced courts to partially shut down. Once the political situation becomes clearer, Yafi said she would be able to provide pro bono legal assistance.

Like Yafi, many other legal professionals have been taking personal initiatives to help Lebanese citizens who have received backlash for attending the demonstrations.

Since the beginning of the protest, lawyers from across the country have been congregating under a tent in Martyrs’ Square to support those affected and provide them with free legal advice.

“Our role primarily is to protect the rights and freedom of citizens. The level of oppression and poverty that people reached was inevitably going to get to a point of explosion,” said Marianna Berro, a lawyer of 10 years who has been coming to the square daily.

Berro said the lawyers were acting of their own volition, independently of the Bar Association.

Imad Ammar, 37, a trainee lawyer, estimated that 50 to 100 people had been coming to the tent for legal advice every day, many for employment and salary issues stemming from the protests. “Imagine, there is a tremendous threat in your country and you want to fight against it,” lawyer Mariam Abdullah, 38, said. “How can you terminate a human being [from their job] for expressing their rights?”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 29, 2019, on page 2.

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