By Ali Younes
Hundreds of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon protested in the capital Beirut and around their refugee camps against the government's crackdown on businesses hiring foreign workers without permits.
Demonstrators on Tuesday also demanded the Lebanese ministry of labour overturn a rule that requires Palestinian workers to obtain a work permit in order to gain employment.
Last month, the ministry announced a one-month deadline for companies to acquire the work permits. Once the deadline expired last week, the ministry began to close businesses that did not comply.
In 2010, Palestinians in Lebanon were exempted from paying for work permits, but Palestinian business owners were still required to register and pay 25 percent of the standard fee.
Lebanon's Labour Minister Camille Abousleiman tweeted his ministry did not plan to target Palestinian refugees, saying he was "flexible" as far as helping the "Palestinian brothers" was concerned.
Protesters, however, said while the government requirement seems reasonable "on the face of it", the move will result in more hardship for Palestinian workers and subject them to discriminatory practices and unfair treatment in the labour market.
Palestinian social researcher Rana Makki, who participated in Tuesday's protest, told Al Jazeera that Palestinians in Lebanon are confused by the "different and contradictory" ministerial decisions that target their livelihoods.
She said Palestinian workers and business owners end up facing "a vicious cycle" of Lebanese labour laws that are "inherently racist".
"Prospective employers end up passing many of the fees required by the state on behalf of the employee on workers, which disincentivises business owners from hiring Palestinian or Syrian workers who have work permits, or force them to work for less if they do," she said.
Journalist Ilda Ghoussain, who works for Al-Akhbar newspaper in Beirut, said one-third of the Lebanese economy being unorganised is a part of the problem.
Ghoussain said the government's move was directed at Syrian workers who are in "a greater number" and who, unlike Palestinian refugees, came to Lebanon after the Syrian civil war started in 2011.
Lebanon hosts about 1.5 million Syrians. There are nearly 475,000 Palestinian refugees registered with the UN refugee agency in Lebanon, in which an estimated 270,000 actually reside inside the country.
Exploitation of cheap labour
Lebanese economist Kamal Hamdan said the legal system that organises the labour market in Lebanon is "unfair" towards the Palestinians. He said the Palestinians should have de facto labour rights, since they have been in the country for more than 70 years.
Thousands of Palestinians were forced to take refuge in Lebanon after the creation of Israel in 1948.
Hamdan, who heads the Consultation and Research Institute think-tank in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera the government's move is intended to curb Lebanese employers' ability to hire Palestinian and Syrian workers, who work without health insurance or other benefits.
"Prior to the Syrian presence, Palestinian workers could work in usually low-wage jobs such as construction, restaurants, or day labourers by relying on their refugee status and without having a work permit," said Ghousain.
Lebanese law bans Palestinian refugees from working in about 70 professions, such as medicine, law and engineering, or join any professional association. Palestinians and Lebanese activists regard these laws as discriminatory.