Palestinian refugees in Lebanon granted limited access to job market

Burj Barajneh - Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon (File)

Sunniva Rose

The National  /  December 8, 2021

Syndicated professions may still restrict Palestinians’ right to work.

Lebanon on Wednesday removed barriers for Palestinian refugees to access some of the local labour market, but most white-collar jobs remain barred without a Parliament vote.

The decree, published on the Labour Ministry’s website, says Palestinians born in Lebanon, as well as non-Lebanese with a Lebanese mother or married to a Lebanese citizen, are now allowed to work in professions managed by Lebanese orders and syndicates.

But it remains to be seen whether orders and syndicates will choose to amend their rules to allow Palestinians to work. “The majority request reciprocity,” said Abdelnasser El Ayi, project manager at the Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee, an inter-ministerial body headed by the prime minister’s office. This remains impossible as long as there is no Palestinian state.

Laws governing jobs organised by order, such as engineering, medicine, pharmacy and law, can only be changed by lawmakers in Parliament, Mr El Ayi told The National.

Syndicated professions, including nursing or physiotherapy, may be governed by a government decree or by a law voted by Parliament.

In a 2017 census, the LPDC found that 174,000 Palestinians live in Lebanon. They are the descendants of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were displaced by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

“We are very happy if this decision can serve us and the country we live in,” said Mustapha Abu Harb, a spokesperson for Palestinian group Fatah in Lebanon.

“Palestinian workers, engineers, or doctors are needed considering the difficult economic conditions in Lebanon,” he told The National. “We are ready to play our part.”

Until Wednesday’s amendment, Lebanese labour laws barred Palestinians from a list of more than 30 professions. Decrees can be amended by a minister and do not require a vote from MPs. Palestinians remain prohibited from buying land in Lebanon.

A crackdown against illegal foreign workers in 2019 caused mass protests in Palestinian camps across the country, which are managed by UNRWA, with Palestinians demanding labour rights on a par with Lebanese. Palestinian employees benefit from only 8 per cent of their contributions to Lebanon’s National Security Fund despite their employers paying 23.5 per cent.

The LPDC has been working on increasing Palestinians’ access to the healthcare sector in light of the high number of departures of Lebanese doctors and nurses caused by the country’s economic crash. In the past month, Parliament voted a law allowing Palestinians to register in the syndicate of nurses.

“This was the first time that a syndicate explicitly changed its law to allow Palestinians to register and this is mainly due to the huge need for medical staff in the country,” said Mr El Ayi.

“We are now looking into each syndicate to see how we can work with them to allow Palestinians to access these professions.”

Sunniva Rose – correspondent, Beirut