Lebanon News

Disability law implementation, at last?

A man on a wheelchair arrives to vote at a polling station in Beirut, Sunday, May 6, 2018. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: A long-running saga over the stalled implementation of a law designed to promote the rights of disabled people in Lebanon entered a new chapter recently when the Labor Ministry committed to administering the law. The Disability Rights Act No. 220 (also known as Law 220), passed 18 years ago, obliges the private sector to hire a certain number of employees with disabilities.

Companies with 30 to 60 employees must hire at least one disabled person, while larger companies must hire a number of disabled employees equivalent to 3 percent of the workforce.

“This law should have been implemented, but because of circumstances in the country it wasn’t,” caretaker Labor Minister Mohammad Kabbara told The Daily Star Friday. “Now I’m implementing this law.”

Companies that have failed to implement the law by this year’s Oct. 19 deadline will be forced to pay a fine equivalent to twice the minimum wage, revenues from which will be allocated to a fund for disabled people unable to work.

Local news outlet Business News reported that the National Employment Office and the Social Affairs Ministry were drawing up lists of people with disabilities, their qualifications and their ability to work.

Despite its passage in 2000, the law has met significant resistance from both employers and the state.

It has still failed to be implemented despite a February 2017 decision by the Shura Council’s first chamber, which should have forced the National Social Security Fund to verify compliance and barred the NSSF from issuing quittances in cases where the law was violated.

Following the decision, the Labor Ministry made a number of excuses for not enforcing the law, including that “the law contained no explanations of the qualifications required of the disabled person whom the employer has an obligation to employ” and that clauses would have to be added to the general budget pertaining to fines. This was impossible, the state argued, as no budget had been passed since 2005.

Nawaf Kabbara, president of the National Association for the Rights of Disabled People in Lebanon, said the failure to implement Law 220 comes down to the lobbying abilities of the parties involved.

“The disability movement is not a very strong lobbying organization,” he told The Daily Star.

“That law means a major change in policy that affects the interest of major institutions. I think they are stronger than us.”

Nawaf Kabbara also noted that the implementation of the law required coordination between the Social Affairs and Labor Ministries.

“Other ministries are not ready to cooperate and to work under another minister and ministry,” he said.

The disabilities advocate was generally positive about the latest move by the Labor Minister, which he described as “a very important step.” He also said that Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was forming a committee to revisit the law and oversee its implementation under the care of MP Dima Jamali.

The Daily Star was unable to obtain confirmation from Jamali before going to print.

However, Nawaf Kabbara cautioned that there was still a long way to go to achieve rights for disabled people in Lebanon.

He noted that the law failed to fully address the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Lebanon signed in 2007, and he called for completely revising Law 220.

There was also, he noted, a worrying lack of coverage for care of people with disabilities.

“So far we know that around 105,000 persons have disability cards but if you [define] disability based on the international standard, the number will be much higher than this.

“We have a major problem here ... I think that people with disabilities feel themselves totally [passed] over [by the] government,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 28, 2018, on page 3.

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