Timeline: Social Protection in Lebanon

Timeline: September, 1946 to December, 2021

This timeline retraces the main stages of the construction of social protection systems in Lebanon. By presenting a chronological account, in addition to brief analytical insights on public policies in this field, it aims at highlighting the fragmentation of the social protection system(s), and the exclusionary mechanisms produced by a scattered social protection configuration.

Social policies in Lebanon have been historically shaped by two main forces. On the one hand, they have been promoted by state’s elites within the framework of sectarian power-sharing (the so-called “consociational pact”). On the other hand, they have been pushed by social mobilizations-organizing around socioeconomic claims.

Prior to the establishment of social security schemes in 1963, charitable associations – which often, if not always, were politically connected to sectarian elites and institutions – ensured forms of social assistance (Yehya 2015). Today, the legacy of these networks still stands strong with political parties and sectarian leaders alike, as well as religious institutions, offering a broad range of social services and assistance, and mirroring a well-entrenched clientelistic system (Cammett 2014; Salloukh et al. 2015; Kochuyt 2014).

President Fuad Shehab (in office 1958-1964) is considered the initiator of social policies in Lebanon (Corm 2012), with social security schemes for public and private sector employees being adopted during his mandate. In January 1963, public sector employees obtained social security coverage through the establishment of different cooperatives for civil servants, security forces, and military personnel. A few months later, in September 1963, the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) was established, providing social security coverage to workers formally employed in the private sector. The establishment of social security schemes is regarded as part of the broader "developmentalist" project of President Shehab, aimed at building a centralized state, and weakening the leverage that sectarian power relations retain within and beyond the state (Malsagne 2011; Corm 2012). The building of the state also meant ensuring forms of protection that had so far been exclusively guaranteed through networks related to partisan, clientelistic, and religious affiliations and loyalties. The Shehabist priority of building public institutions can help to elucidate the introduction of more protective social security schemes for public servants and military personnel, i.e. “employees of the state,” compared to private sector employees' social security schemes (Scala 2022). However, it must be noted that social protection policies were introduced in a context of workers’ mobilizations which, especially during the 1930s and 1940s, had put pressure on Lebanese governments to achieve, inter alia, the enactment of the Labor Code in 1946 (Tufaro 2021, Slaiby 1999, Al Boueri 1986).

Since their establishment, social protection schemes have proved to be exclusive rather than inclusive on several levels. These schemes discriminate between public and private employees, as they offer a higher degree of protection to the former (Abdo 2014). For example, the cooperatives of the public sector provide a retirement scheme, while the NSSF only opens to modest end-of-service indemnities that equal 3 years of salary for a 45-year-long service activity. Moreover, mandatory schemes of social security only cover employees operating in the formal private sector, in a context of a labor market that is structurally and historically dominated by informal labor (Jaoudé 2015). Third, social security schemes exclude professional categories that are already precluded from the Labor Code, such as agricultural workers, domestic workers, and the daily workers employed in public institutions and facilities. Last but not least, they exclude non-Lebanese workers from equal access to the NSSF benefits.

Non-Lebanese workers can only access end-of-service indemnities, and are excluded from the other benefits offered by the NSSF, such as health insurance, family allowance, and maternity leave. Moreover, the Ministry of Labor regulations restrict access to certain professions to Lebanese citizens only, excluding Palestinian and Syrian refugees from engaging in a broad spectrum of professions. The former have been, until December 2021, excluded from working across some 70 professions (AbiYaghi 2014), while the latter can only work in construction, agriculture, or sanitation (Baroud and Zeidan 2021). On 8 December 2021, the Ministry of Labor made some amendments to the regulations, limiting certain professions to Lebanese citizens only, allowing Palestinian Refugees and other non-Lebanese citizens to access previously restricted professions, such as public administrations and liberal professions (medicine, law, engineering, and public transport) (L’Orient-le jour 12/8/2021). Despite these modifications, effective access to these professions for non-Lebanese citizens requires significant legal actions that have not been undertaken yet, and needs to overcome strong political and corporatist opposition.

Social security schemes have also historically suffered from considerable gender bias. Following the patriarchal logic of the male breadwinner, for instance, working women, up until 1987, were not eligible for transmitting their NSSF benefits to their family members, including their children, contrary to their male peers. Moreover, if both husband and wife are working and registered to the NSSF, family and education allowance are still provided to male workers. Working women registered to the NSSF can only access child allowances if their husband is not – and cannot – be registered to the NSSF. In addition, the NSSF does not provide any paternity leave (and allowance), heavily implying that women must be the ones who take care of the children. Another overwhelming pattern of fragmentation and discrimination of the Lebanese social protection system(s) is class-related. As highlighted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) Vulnerability and Social Protection Gaps Assessment in reference to data collected in the 2018-2019 period, “Over 90 percent of total benefits distributed through social protection schemes was constituted of benefits from contributory social protection, such as retirement pension and health insurance and more than 70 percent of those affiliated with social insurance schemes belonged to the upper half of the income distribution” (ILO 2021, 14).

Taken together, these examples not only account for the fragmentation of the Lebanese social protection system(s). They also clearly indicate that intersectional frames of discrimination related to gender, ethnicity, class, and work status collectively exclude individuals and social groups from accessing social protection mechanisms (Scala 2022).

The neoliberal economic policies pursued by the ruling elites in the postwar period further deepened existing gaps within the social protection system by drastically reducing the public expenditure, while encouraging the spread of private insurance schemes for those who can afford it. The “five-year program for financial reform” approved by the Selim el-Hoss cabinet in 1998 introduced austerity measures and privatization policies for public companies, leading to the freezing of recruitment in the public sector, and to a consistent cut of public expenditures. The Law Decree no. 7352 of 1 February 2002 introducing voluntary health insurance schemes, and resolved the issue of access to social security for self-employed, employers, and liberal professions excluded from the NSSF by delegating their coverage to the subscription of private insurances. As for those unable to either afford private insurances, or to find employment within the formal labor market, social services are mostly offered through religious, partisan, and political institutions, or ad hoc measures and humanitarian aid.

Following the Paris I, II, and III conferences, and in line with the World Bank approach to social protection, “poors,'' and especially individuals in “extreme poverty,” have been targeted through social safety nets, namely the National Program Targeting Poverty (NPTP), relaunched as the Emergency National Program Targeting Poverty (ENPTP) following to the Syrian crisis. Starting with the multilayered Lebanese crisis in the Autumn 2019, and due to the hyperinflation and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the introduction of safety nets is still preferred over the reform of the social protection system to target spreading poverty. In 2020, the World Bank offered the financing of an Emergency Crisis and COVID-19 Response Social Safety Net Project (ESSN) through a loan to the Lebanese Government. On 30 June 2021, the Parliament voted for the introduction of a ration-card program, aiming at substituting existing indirect subsidies on fuel and wheat with cash (direct) subsidies to qualified and eligible households through prepaid cash cards. Both the ration-card program and the ESSN are currently still on hold because of technical and political delays. However, on 1 December 2021, the Lebanese Government announced the launching of theDaem platform,” which will collect applications for both the ESSN and the ration-card program. The NPTP is, therefore, the only operational program to this day. As of March 2021, it had reached only 1.5% of the population (ILO and UNICEF 2021, 10).

Though the October 2019 social movement has claimed social justice as its main political priority, the emergency approach still dominates the framework of social protections in Lebanon up until now. Nevertheless, its effectiveness is rather negligible, as safety nets account for no more than 0.5% increase in income for the eligible population (ILO 2021, 12).

Over the course of the ongoing crisis, previously “privileged” populations (such as public employees) are suffering from downward mobility and the loss of income and status because of the hyperinflation that compromises their salaries. They are still paid in LBP, and remunerations are indexed at the official bank rate of 1,500 LBP for the dollar, while the dollar’s actual value closed in to 30,000 LBP at the beginning of January 2022. It is also worth noting that third-party payments of public employees’ cooperatives and private sector employees’ NSSF are still paid following the official LBP/USD exchange rate. As of September 2021, almost all public hospitals and private hospitals are refusing third-party payments of public employees’ cooperatives and private sector employees’ NSSF, and asking them for large cash deposits to grant access to emergencies and health services. In conclusion, the social protection framework in Lebanon is scattered, ineffective, and fails its main objective: ensuring protection.

 

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_______ 12/8/2021. “Les Palestiniens peuvent désormais exercer des professions nécessitant l'adhésion à un syndicat.”

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