Projet Tempus PACOME

Partenariat pour les compétences et l'emploi

Seminar: At the Margins of Wage Labour?

Séminaire commun: Département des études contemporaines de l’Ifpo, Observatoire des compétences et métiers de l’USJ, Orient Institute Beirut (OIB)

At the Margins of Wage Labour?

Aux marges du salariat ?

Travailler et contester au Liban : du travail migrant à la grande distribution


  • Michele Scala (Phd Student – OIB, IREMAM, Associated to the Département des études contemporaines de l’Ifpo)
  • Nizar Hariri (Assistant Professor, Faculty of Economics, Observatoire des Compétences et des Métiers, USJ)


This seminar 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 seminar 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 fits 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 the daily-workers are exceeding in number their fixed colleagues, 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 various fieldworks, 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.


First Cycle of Seminars


1st Session (16 February 2018)

seminar: Wages and Waste Economies: The Politics of Underage Wage Labour inside Lebanon’s Scrap Metal Industry

Speaker: Elizabeth Saleh (AUB, Program Director and Research Associate at the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship,


2nd Session (9 March 2018)

Round table : “The Labour of Displaced Syrians: From Forced Migration to Work without Rights”

  • « “L’encampement” des réfugiés syriens au Moyen Orient : déborder les frontières de la vulnérabilité par le travail », Delphine Mercier, Laboratoire d’Économie et de Sociologie du Travail (LEST), Aix-en-Provence) ; Mustapha El Miri (LEST)
  • « Travail des enfants : ethnographie d’un c(h)amp du Akkar, Liban », Agosta Sofia (doctorante Centre Population et Développement (CEPED), Paris Descartes) ; Scala Michele (doctorant Institut de Recherches sur les Mondes arabes et Musulmans (IREMAM), Aix-Marseille Université)
  • « “Les réfugiés volontaires” : travailleurs invisibles des dispositifs d’intervention de l’aide internationale ? », Leila Driff (Doctorante EHESS-IRIS, associée à l’Ifpo)


3rd Session (23 March 2018)

1st part: « Mou’allem, shawish ou warshe : travailler dans le tabac, ressources et contraintes »

Speaker: Emma Aubin-Boltanski (Ifpo)

2nd part : Title to be determined

Speaker: Thierry Boissière (Ifpo)


The 2nd cycle of seminars will be held in April and May 


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