Head of the Beirut Merchant Association Nicolas Chammas warned Friday that increasing employers subscriptions to the National Social Security Fund could compel the private sector to scale down their operations, reduce staff numbers and even shut down certain businesses. “We have already made a lot of gestures to help the NSSF and the government despite the slow economic growth which has affected most businesses in the country,” Chammas told The Daily Star.
He added that the private sector had recently agreed to increase the income cap subject to motherhood and sickness fees from LL1.5 million to LL2 million, adding that this proposal would allow the NSSF to have a surplus of LL18 billion according to their own calculations.
Most private hospitals have threatened to stop receiving NSSF patients as of Sept. 1 in case the government-run fund fails to hike hospitalization fees.
“In April the private sector refused to raise the income cap beyond LL1.5 million because the sickness and maternity department has been fed by an additional LL85 billion after raising the salaries of the staff.
“We had to pull out our representatives from the NSSF’s committee after most its members voted in favor of raising the cap to LL2.5 million. But we eventually agreed to raise this cap to LL2 million,” Chammas explained.
He added that the private sector proposal was a “win-win-win” situation since it would not break the back of the companies and would at the same time inject the NSSF with more funds.
The fees, which account for 9 percent of NSSF registered workers’ wages, are shared by both employers and employees at 2 and 7 percent respectively.
Head of the Lebanese Industrialists Association Nehmet Frem also expressed his full support for raising the income ceiling to LL2 million only.
“The social and economic situation is on the brink of erupting and it is necessary to tackle this situation as soon as possible. For this reason, we have agreed to raise the cap to LL2 million but the private sector is not willing to go beyond that,” Frem said.
The president of the General Labor Confederation Ghassan Ghosn rejected the attitude of private hospitals, stressing that every NSSF patient is entitled to full medical treatment at all hospitals in Lebanon.
Ghosn also voiced support to raising the maximum salary cap subject to NSSF fees to LL2.5 million, adding that the workers don’t mind paying the extra fees so that they can be admitted to the hospitals.
Some businessmen admitted that the NSSF committee had the power to enforce any cap it wanted if it gets all the necessary votes.
But they added that such a step would further widen the rift between the employees and employers, saying that the private sector was the engine of growth in this country.
The NSSF’s administration has repeatedly said that it will take punitive measure against any hospital which turns down a patient.
It hinted that it may cancel the contract with any private hospital which refuses to admit an NSSF patient.
It remains to be seen whether all hospitals will carry out their threat on Sept. 1.