Could It Stoop Any Lower?

I thought I had reached a point where I had seen the worst there is in the Lebanese labor market; a point where the level of degradation of the human being can never be any lower. I was wrong! In the last part of Article 61 of the Lebanese Labor Law, it is clearly stated that all establishments should always be clean and meet the health and safety requirements necessary for its employees. This is what the law says. However, this is not what many companies abide to.

Allow me to take some of your time to introduce you to one such company; one I have recently started working for. It is a well-known company in its field, and has been operational in the Lebanese market for the past 14 years. Purely out of ethics and respect, I shall not mention the name of the company or the type of business it does. However, you have the complete freedom to speculate.

Anyhow, as I was saying, this company is one of the well-known, well-established companies in the market, and has a reputation similar to most other medium-sized companies. It caters to the private and public sectors in Lebanon, and is currently a group of around 60 full-time employees, and produces more than 25 products, with sales heavily growing each year. It also (supposedly) complies with a certain global standard related to its field. This is the general (outer) description of the company.

However, a closer inspection into the inside of the company – the office space – one would be surprised how the inside does not, in any way, match the glittery, glamorous outside. Allow me to explain. I shall start first with the internal office division. The company is divided into two sections: the administrative offices (where most of the admin along with the owner are located), and the (let’s call it) ‘other’ offices, where most of the free-lance employees are located. It is also where my office is, since I am the one in charge of the free lancers. The administrative offices are always clean, air-conditioned and tidy; whereas the ‘other’ offices are the total opposite. Fear not, I shall delve into the how.

We start first with a tour around the office: upon opening the main office door, one is greeted with the smell of humidity and mold. Yes, do not fix your glasses or the screen resolution, you have read the right words: humidity and mold. And trust me the office is full of those, especially in the kitchen area (which is as small as 2x3m2). The second thing one would notice upon entering the office is the walls: yellowish-grey in color with several spider webs decorating them. Apparently where I work, they do not believe in paintings for decoration; well, who am I to judge people’s taste in art?

Let’s move on. The office windows have not been cleaned since the day the building was erected – probably some time in the 70’s. The floors are really weird; they are not made of tiles or marble; instead, it is some sort of glue-y covering whose design looks like tiles. They are dark green in color, most probably due to the huge amount of dirt stuck on them, since the term “cleaning” does not truly exist in the internal company dictionary. The office desks are broken and very dirty; dust covers the blackness of the desks, making them look dotted white. The computers (desktops to be exact) date back to when the very first computer was made; and they still operate on (get this) Windows 2003! Shapes (such a heart, or a star), and names and dates have been creatively ‘installed’ on the monitors and computer cases, giving them an alternative design. Talk about creativity. Moving on…

The kitchen is a tiny space with an ancient refrigerator that stands in one corner and a worn out, rusty sink on the other. The cupboards smell like mold and the mugs and cups inside are non-usable. The kitchen walls are full of cobwebs and spider webs, along with a huge mold smudge. The kitchen is also the dwelling place of cockroaches and ants… makes you feel hungry, right? Toilet paper and tissue paper are very rare items – almost extinct – and the employees might kill for a tissue paper. They are things we have to beg the administration for – literally. Another office item we have to beg for is paper for the printers – A4 papers have to be used to their fullest capacity… after all, one has to be economical.

During hot summer days, when the power is out in Beirut, the air-conditioning system is the one system that is not allowed to be used; and electric fans are the permissible alternative method. So imagine a room with about 20 individuals (mostly hairy men), on a hot summer day with no air conditioning… there are times when the ‘scent of natural odors’ makes me nauseated.

Had enough? I have! I just wonder: how much lower will Lebanese employers go?

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