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French Version

Analysts see high unemployment in war's aftermath

War damage to Lebanese businesses and a debilitating seven-week Israeli blockade will lead to large-scale layoffs and a spike in unemployment, analysts say. Companies laid off thousands of workers after Israeli troops launched a massive offensive in Lebanon on July 12 against after Hizbullah captured two Israeli soldiers, bosses and trade unions say.

Economist Kamal Hamdan forecast that unemployment could more than double from the official level of 9 percent before the fighting to as high as 20 percent in the coming months.

"Lebanon could see a surge of layoffs owing to an uncertain political future and lack of agreement on reconstruction issues," he told AFP.

Fellow economist Marwan Iskandar said: "In the short term, over the next six months, 50,000-55,000 people are going to lose their jobs."

The Israeli blockade continues to punish Lebanon's economy, with gasoline stations still hit by sporadic shortages and some stores unable to stock shelves, especially with foreign products.

While an overall accounting from the 34 days of fighting remains elusive, 2,000 workers were already jobless because the companies they worked for were wiped out, said Association of Lebanese Industrialists president Fadi Abboud.

"Eighty to 90 industrial firms were destroyed by Israeli attacks. Their employees were not fired for economic reasons but owing to 'force majeur' because the companies cannot function any longer," he said.

Iskandar estimated the number of lost jobs in the industrial sector could climb to 10,000. Another 2,000 retail workers are expected to be laid off as consumption plummets.

Analysts agree that tourism and services will probably suffer the most.

From hotels and restaurants to car and vacation apartment rentals, travel agencies and maritime transport companies, the outlook is decidedly dim.

In high season, 110,000 people are employed in those sectors, and they were looking forward to a record year as the country continued to rebound from its 1975-90 Civil war.

Paul Ariss, head of the restaurant union, said 15 percent of the sector's 50,000 workers, many of whom held seasonal jobs, had lost them because of shut-downs.

About 1,000 more cafes and restaurants could still close, while around 100 in Downtown Beirut that cater to rich Gulf tourists now operate with reduced shifts, Ariss said.

At a major Beirut hotel, a seasonal worker named Labib was told his temporary contract had been cancelled owing to "force majeur."

"I had great hopes for this job and wanted to eventually become a manager. I am married, my wife is pregnant and now I'm out on the street without a way to pay the rent," he said.

Full-time workers are not much better off.

Many have had to take unpaid holidays, Labib said.

According to Pierre Ashkar, president of the hotel workers union, thousands will find themselves in similar straits because seasonal workers represent 20 percent of the sector total.

Iskandar noted, however, that the somber outlook could brighten somewhat.

"An economic rebound will allow 80 percent of lost jobs to be recovered if political stability is assured and a public aid program is enacted," he said.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Wednesday his government planned to pay $33,000 in compensation to families whose homes were destroyed in Southern Lebanon by Israeli strikes, a major boost for the building industry.

Before heading to Sweden for an emergency conference on humanitarian and reconstruction needs, Siniora said that 130,000 homes had been destroyed or damaged in Lebanon, including 50,000 in the southern suburbs of Beirut that were not included in the government's plan.

An exodus of Syrian laborers from Lebanon along with a troop withdrawal by Damascus could also provide low-paid jobs for Lebanese workers.

Beirut 31-08-2006
The Daily Star

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