Cash-strapped Lebanese drivers block roads in ‘day of rage’ Business and Economics News

Transport unions in Lebanon are asking the government to subsidize their fuel prices and provide cash assistance.

Beirut, Lebanon – Truck and bus drivers across Lebanon have blocked roads and highways with their vehicles, urging the government to help them deal with soaring fuel prices.

Lebanon’s transport union on Thursday called for a “day of anger” to paralyze the country and force authorities to subsidize fuel prices and provide financial compensation to help them deal with rising expenses.

“We are devastated,” Ali Al Jaroosh, the bus driver, told Al Jazeera as he blocked an intersection near central Beirut. “We get paid in lira [Lebanese pound] But pay our costs in dollars. “

Lebanese Transport Union Day of RageBarricade on Dara Highway [Kareem Chehayeb/Al Jazeera]

In September last year, Bassam Tleis, president of the Land Transport Union, said Prime Minister Najib Mikati had promised the government would meet their demands and compensate them.

But Mikati’s bailout government has not met since October and has been unable to implement financial reforms to unleash billions of dollars in international aid.

It also continued efforts to stop the local currency from surging – the Lebanese pound has lost about 95% of its value in just over two years as it continues to depreciate rapidly.

At one of the roadblocks, Telles told reporters that the protests would continue until their demands were met.

Lebanese Transport Union Day of RageBassam Tellis interviewed by local media [Kareem Chehayeb/Al Jazeera]

Truck driver Alfred Hokayem, 56, was one of a dozen people blocking the otherwise busy Dawra highway on the outskirts of Beirut.

“Today is a warning,” Hokayem told Al Jazeera. “It’s going to escalate. We’re going to riot.”

Public transport drivers are especially struggling to cope with soaring fuel costs as the central bank continues to phase out subsidies since last summer to ration the country’s dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

Now, the cost of filling up the gas tank exceeds the monthly minimum wage (worth about $20).

Food inflation in Lebanon is the highest in the world, surpassing 557 percent as of last fall, according to the United Nations World Food Program.

On top of that, massive outages since last summer have forced households to pay exorbitant costs to private generator suppliers, often higher than their own rent.

“The government needs to stabilize the dollar so we can eat and live,” van driver Mehdi Ismail told Al Jazeera. “How can we fill up our gas tanks and feed our kids?”

Inflation in Lebanon is hurting other sectors too. On Thursday, fuel distributors refused to offload until prices adjusted to the depreciating Lebanese pound. The Ministry of Economy has also further increased the price of bread.

The International Monetary Fund will hold a virtual meeting with the Lebanese government on Monday to continue talks on a rescue package.

Lebanese Transport Union Day of RageBarricade on Dara Highway [Kareem Chehayeb/Al Jazeera]