Lebanon News

Planned election and demonstration stir up labor movement

BEIRUT: Opposition to a proposed General Labor Confederation election later this month and a labor demonstration is growing within the ranks of both unions and the government.

The G.L.C. has announced that it will hold a by-election on Jan. 17, for half of its leadership body, the 12-person Executive Committee.

But the election is being challenged by a bloc of opposition confederations in the G.L.C., which has some 50 members.

They are opposed to the Syrian-allied parties that dominate the G.L.C., and have been taking their case to Labor Minister Butros Harb.

After a meeting Tuesday with Harb, the head of one of the opposition factions said he stressed to the minister that all sides in the G.L.C. should be represented in its next election.

“We discussed the complaint filed by more than 16 confederations in the G.L.C., about the illegitimacy of the by-elections, which are scheduled for the 17th,” said Maroun Khawli, who heads the General Confederation of Workers Unions in Lebanon, formed in 2005 as an alternative to the G.L.C..

A labor source said the minister was taking the challenges seriously and might intervene, by withholding official recognition of the poll.

The opposition confederations are seizing on the elections, and the fact that the entire Executive Committee’s term has expired, to hit back at their rivals.

The opposition confederations are loyal to pro-March 14 Christian parties and figures, the Future Movement, and some independents, a labor source told The Daily Star.

Confederations affiliated with the Communist Party and the Progressive Socialists Party are largely in the middle, hoping that a reconciliation takes place among G.L.C. leaders. The ministry has yet to announce a position on the poll.

A day earlier, Harb was visited by union officials from the United Confederation, which is also opposed to the current G.L.C. leadership and is warning that the impasse could produce a split.

On behalf of the United Confederation, Musa Feghali said he represented 11 confederations that objected to a range of legal and election-related violations by the G.L.C. leadership.

Feghali objected to the “dominance” of one group over the G.L.C., which is supposed to have a consensus-based decision-making process. “This means we’re on our way to seeing two G.L.C.s,” Feghali said.

Khawli also voiced his opposition to the timing of a Feb. 10 nationwide strike and demonstration, as being too close to two symbolic dates: the Mar Maroun holiday on Feb. 9, and the Feb. 14 anniversary of the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

The demonstration has been called for by pro-March 8 taxi confederations, and informally endorsed by the G.L.C..

Calling the timing “embarrassing” for the rank and file, Khawli added “if we reach an agreement about a date, we’ll certainly participate in big numbers.”

He objects to forcing the government to negotiate over labor demands during a national holiday and in the run-up to the Hariri commemoration.

Harb isn’t on good terms with the G.L.C. leadership, since it earlier blocked his efforts to enact reforms in the National Social Security Fund.

Meanwhile, Harb’s colleague in the government Gibran Bassil, from the Free Patriotic Movement, said he supported the taxi drivers’ protest, after a meeting last week with G.L.C. leaders.

While the G.L.C. rebuffed Harb’s earlier moves with the N.S.S.F., the minister is pressing ahead with new legislation on retirement and social assistance.

Harb told an Association of Hospital Owners publication this week that the legislation enjoys top priority while also blaming G.L.C. representatives at the N.S.S.F. for blocking its work.

 

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