Seminar Series: At the Margins of Wage Labour? Work and Protests in Lebanon: From migrant work to large retail chains

Sofia Agosta, Michele Scala, Workers in agriculture, Akkar, 2017.

A seminar series by Ifpo, OCM (USJ) and the OIB

Organizers :

Michele Scala (OIB Visiting Doctoral Fellow, Amu-Iremam, Ifpo)
Nizar Hariri, Senior Lecturer at the USJ, Faculty of Economic Sciences

This seminar series aims at creating a space for discussion around “labour”, an issue that is scarcely studied, and widely absent from public and scientific debates in Lebanon. By bringing together the studies of various researchers, experts and actors in this field, this series analyzes labour from the workers point of view, in particularly those who carry out one or more activities at the margins of the legal and social protections which, in turn, are mainly restricted to wage labour.

Hence, addressing labour in these specific contexts is a difficult task. However, a first dividing line could be drawn between “wage labour” – which constitutes the norm of reference of protected labour – and labour “without rights” in its different forms: precarious work, work on demand, but also other forms of work exploitation, that could be more or less voluntary, forced or servile. The former is supposed to include workers in society by giving access to rights (social protections, school allowances, retirement pension, but also bank loans, etc.). The latter denies workers the access to those rights, excluding them from social protection, collective benefits and social welfare.

Yet, an important part of the labour force in Lebanon – even though not readily measurable – relies on labour forms that hardly fit the model of wage labour. Workers without rights represent significant figures of the labour activity, from migrant work to large retail chains, including precarious employment within the public sector (contract-workers, daily-workers, ghabb el-talab, bilfatura, etc.). Especially in the public sector, contract-workers (who might still be considered as partially protected by the Labour Code) and daily-workers are exceeding their fixed colleagues in number since the year 2000.

This seminar aims at questioning the perspective that is frequently used to tackle “labour without rights”, commonly considered as an exception and a derogation from the “normal” form of wage labour. Yet, our objective is to challenge this mindset based on experiences collected from fieldwork, in order to gain a better understanding of these labor activities – rather than considering them as mere exceptions to an alleged “norm” of wage labour.

Can concealed forms of peonage in agriculture, as well as migrant work in various sectors (construction sector, industrial or service activities, domestic households, etc.), or even child labour be confined to the margins of contemporary configurations of work relationships? Or are they rather consubstantial to it, in its local scales as well as in the context of the global economy?

The challenge of this seminar will therefore be to investigate the various forms of economic and social marginality of these activities taking place “outside wage labor”. Moreover, the resurgence of social struggles in various labour contexts where workers lack protection and live in precarious and/or illegal conditions leads us to question the assumed vulnerability of these actors. A particular attention will be drawn to the informal social and political network on which those workers may rely on, in order to question its place and function within contemporary configurations of labour in Lebanon, and to explore the multiple forms of resistance and mobilization arising in these labour contexts.

On 30 April, Elisabeth Longuenesse will present her research on “Migrant Labour and the Structure of the Labour Market in Lebanon” at the OIB from 6 to 8pm.

For the full programme of the seminar series, see here.


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