BEIRUT — Head of the land transport unions Bassam Tlais told L’Orient Today that the unions will continue the open-ended strike that began today and are currently organizing another sit-in across Lebanon for next Thursday “to amplify the need for the government to meet our demands, including a solution to [high] fuel prices, and the issue of private transportation companies hiring drivers without taxi licenses.” Tlais’ remarks follow the beginning of the unions’ strike Thursday morning, for which the turnout at sit-ins across the country was relatively low and short lived.
Here’s what we know:
• In response to the call from the land transport unions to strike starting Thursday, public transportation drivers held sit-ins at 6 a.m. in several areas across Lebanon, including Dora highway, Tripoli, Metn and Downtown Beirut, the NNA reported. The sit-ins were short lived and caused limited traffic disruption.
• Tlais gave a speech at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Martyrs’ Square in Downtown Beirut and expressed that the unions will take legal action over the issue of private companies hiring drivers without taxi licenses and who are using cars that don’t have commercial — red — plates. “Although we took this issue to Prime Minister [Najib] Mikati and although he had promised to do something about it, his promise has not been fulfilled,” Tlais said, adding that “almost 7,000 cars are working with a private company that is illegally giving transportation services, and this is not fair for us because we are the ones who are suffering at the end of the day.”
• In October, the land transport unions called a general strike to protest rising fuel prices after state subsidies on the commodity effectively ended amid Lebanon’s economic crisis, but the strike was called off just hours later after the union met with Mikati and other cabinet members, including Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi, and agreed to give the government time to find solutions to the challenges confronting the sector.
• Despite the increasingly unaffordable fares faced by commuters, drivers of shared transportation vehicles, who are generally not employed or supported by the government, are also finding it progressively more difficult to make ends meet due to the exorbitant rise in the cost of fuel and the difficulty in obtaining it. In Lebanon, “public” transportation is an informal, largely self-organized system mostly manned by self-employed drivers.