On International Labour Day, Lebanese workers have little to celebrate
While more than 80 countries celebrate International Labor Day Wednesday, for workers in factories, farms and building sites throughout Lebanon, it will be just another day of coping with the unregulated daily dangers associated with their trade.
While climbing a scaffold, Mustapha Fawwaz, a construction worker, told The Daily Star: “The view from above is very beautiful, but it’s dangerous because you can fall at any point.”
Many such laborers spend the better part of the day cleaning and repairing suspended from platforms several feet above ground, more often than not without safety precautions should they fall.
“The work is hard but God protects us,” Fawwaz added.
In a citrus orchard in the south, Mohammad Slim, 52, smokes a cigarette while taking a break from work. He is one of dozens tasked with spraying the trees with toxic pesticides.
“It’s hard work, and we are exposed to products that can poison us at any time,” he said. “We only work five hours a day because the pesticides are too toxic and make us feel dizzy.”
“I have become immune to the pesticides, but some workers have had to go to hospital and undergo treatment after they came in contact with the toxic products,” he added.
Mohammad Ghoutani, the orchard’s foreman, put it simply: “Our life is full of dangers.”
“If you leave your house to bring your wife some groceries, then you are in danger. We can die either because of the pesticides, or because we fell from the tree [that we were spraying]. We can even die in an accident on our way to work,” he said.
“Labor Day is a joke for us.”
Ghoutani said while life might be better for workers in some European countries, in Lebanon, “it’s better to die than to live the life of a labor worker.”
Baker Adnan Abu Arafa said he valued getting paid and feeling as though he had enough money to provide for his children, even if that meant standing in front of a sweltering oven all day.
For nine hours a day, due to the establishment’s outmoded baking methods, Abu Arafa has to light the oven with wood and face hazardously high temperatures and acrid smoke every day.
“I earn LL60,000 a day for working nine hours. I work very close to the fire and endure long working hours and high temperatures to make a living for my family,” he said, holding fresh loaves of bread from the oven.
“Life is hard.”
In a factory that manufactures stone blocks, Hasan Salman, 60, picks up mud and places it in an iron mold to form a block of stone. Every day, he aims to produce at least 420 blocks of stone, making a daily wage of $24.
Salman, who has eight children, has maintained his job at the factory for 30 years, and complains of the exhausting work hours. “Labor day is for people in other countries that respect their employees and workers enough to allow them to take a break and rest, not Lebanon,” he said.
“In Lebanon, the worker is not given his rights and he has to work from early in the morning until the end of the day,” he added.
Factory manager Abbas Younis added: “The work in the factory depends on demand, and on the days that we close the worker is deprived of his daily wage.”
But workers in Younis’ factory are better off than most, as the company provides them with aid if they become sick and are unable to afford medication. They are also insured with a private company.
In the port of Sidon, workers rush to unload large blocks of marble from newly disembarked ships.
These particular workers pay no heed to the dangers associated with their trade, as they employ machinery to move heavy blocks overhead without protective helmets.
Mohammad Rinno, 18, recently dropped out of school and began working at the port. “No one cares about safety standards, what matters most is getting paid at the end of the day,” he said.
A colleague, Ali Eid, adjusts his position as he hoists a crane.
“Life is hard and you have to surrender to fate,” Eid said.