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French Version

Jobless workers and open posts 'don't match up'

'Companies are facing a problem'

The tens of thousands of workers who lost their jobs because of the July -August war with Israel and the jobs abandoned in the conflict ...

The tens of thousands of workers who lost their jobs because of the July -August war with Israel and the jobs abandoned in the conflict will not turn into a zero-sum game, because the jobs and the workers are mismatched, a new study released by InfoPro Research on Thursday says. Almost 8.5 percent of the workforce was left unemployed by the war, according to the study, which was presented at the Back-in-Business conference on economic recovery under the auspices of Prime Minister Fouad Sinioura and organized by Lebanon Opportunities magazine at Le Bristol Hotel in Beirut.

Predictably, the South was hit worst, with 16.5 percent of the workforce there losing jobs as a direct result of the war, in addition to the 7.4-percent unemployment rate before the war, according to the research. The national unemployment rate is about 15.1 percent, more than double the 6.7 rate in June, according to InfoPro.

At the same time, about 100,000 Lebanese who left during the war remain abroad, most of them among the elite of the labor market, said Jennifer Abu Mrad of InfoPro. But employers cannot find people for those positions, she said.

"Companies are facing a problem replacing these employees," Abu Mrad said.

About 250,000 people left because of the war, some 50,000 of them foreigners, Abu Mrad said. For example, only 50 of Sukleen's 2,000 laborers were available after the war broke out, said Layal Darwiche of Sukleen. Most had left the country, she said. Because of business lost during the war, about 20 percent of companies were planning layoffs in the first weeks after the conflict, Abu Mrad said. However, some companies are now deciding not to lay off employees, according to the most recent research InfoPro has conducted, she said.

The Labor Ministry twice in August asked companies not to lay off employees and said they would treat such layoffs as unfair dismissals, said Rabih Tabarra, a labor-law expert who also spoke at the conference.

The Port of Beirut experienced many of the labor dislocations caused by the war, said Ammar Kanaan of the Beirut Container Terminal Consortium (BCTC), which manages the port. The naval blockade made the port's employees' problems worse than at many other companies, because they could not resume business until about one month after the end of the war, Kanaan said. When the war broke out, their business "went to zero," Kanaan said, because of the blockade.

They faced the problem of employee flight, because their employees could not work anywhere else in Lebanon and were coveted abroad - the BCTC trains port workers in the Caribbean and Kuwait, he added.

The company kept 30 percent of its employees working during the war, rotating in different employees so that almost all would earn some money, Kanaan said. Their drivers refused jobs offered to them during the war at Sukleen, Kanaan said, and the BCTC suspended the contracts of workers who refused reassignment. Today the port is operating at 100 percent capacity and the BCTC has paid its workers most of their lost income.

Beirut 10-11-2006
The Daily Star

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