BEIRUT — At a press conference Friday, Labor Minister Mustafa Bayram defended his recent decision to allow Palestinians to engage in professions that require syndicate membership, after it sparked pushback from some syndicates’ leaders and politicians.
“Ninety percent of those who criticized us did not read the decision, and those who know the law see how the Lebanese worker is protected, as it has become forbidden for the foreigner to work in Lebanon without obtaining an exception," Bayram said during the conference.
Bayram said he has taken this decision according to a standard and professional sequence and without any political favoritism.
“I act according to the laws and principles,” he said.
Bayram announced Wednesday that Palestinian refugees born in Lebanon and registered with the Interior Ministry are now allowed to engage in professions that require syndicate membership, something they had previously been forbidden from doing.
However, in some cases, either Lebanese law or internal syndicate rules prohibit non-Lebanese workers from entering the sector.
It is unclear if the syndicates that govern each profession will agree to allow Palestinian members. On Thursday, the syndicates representing pharmacists and physicians both pushed back against the decision, citing the principle of reciprocity, which generally allows foreign workers to enter the sector only if they come from countries that, in turn, agree to allow Lebanese professionals to enter the same sector and that there is no agreement signed between the Lebanese state and the Palestinian state in that regard. The borders of the Palestinian territories are controlled by Israeli security forces, and Lebanese citizens are prohibited from entering Israel, making such an agreement effectively impossible to implement.
Karim Nammour, a lawyer and member of the Legal Agenda, also noted that since Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are effectively stateless, as they are banned from returning to their country of origin, it is impossible for them to meet the principle of reciprocity, and that as a general principle of law “a condition that is impossible should be null and void.”
Because the decision was issued by ministerial decree rather than legislation ratified by Parliament, it is also possibly vulnerable to reversal. After the decision was announced, Palestinians and their sympathizers were cautiously optimistic, hailing it as a step forward, although a partial one.
Abdelnasser al-Ayyi, office director of the Lebanese Palestinian Dialogue Committee, a body set up by the Lebanese government in 2005 to develop policies on Palestinian refugee affairs, told L'Orient Today that on the ground, the effects of the ministerial decision would be limited, as most of the white-collar syndicate-regulated professions would require additional steps, either via legislation or via changes in the syndicates' bylaws, before Palestinians could join. The professions that would be immediately opened to Palestinians under Bayram’s decision are less-skilled jobs, such as in the tourism sector.
“It’s not big. It’s one step in the right direction,” he said. “And I think all the popularity it gained is because it’s made Palestinians feel that there is that kind of sympathy with their issues and with their cause in Lebanon, because it’s the first time maybe that they feel that, okay, there is hope that something in the rules and the laws would change in their benefit.”