Civil servants stage general strike, demand new salary scale

Civil servants strike in front of the Industry Ministry. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Civil servants carried out a general strike Tuesday at various ministries and public institutions to denounce the government’s failure to approve the long-awaited new salary scale for the public sector.

The strike came in compliance with a call by the Union Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees. The Union called on civil servants to protest the Cabinet’s move to exclude adjustments to their salary scale from the 2012 state budget.

Public school teachers have boycotted marking the official examinations of grades 9 and 12. They are demanding a salary scale that would give them and all other public sector employees the raise that the private sector received in January. Civil servants arguing for the new wage scale say that approximately 200,000 public sector employees would benefit from it.

Standing outside the headquarters of the ministries of Social Affairs, Industry, Education and others, hundreds of public sector employees held up signs that read: “We ask for a raise that corresponds to the high cost of living.”

Information Ministry staff held a sit-in in front of their office at 10 a.m. while another sit-in took place outside the Baalbek Serail at around 10:30 a.m.

Employees at the department of Iskan (housing loans) also held a sit-in in front of their offices at 10 a.m.

Education Minister Hasan Diab said Tuesday that his ministry had expressed its willingness to meet the demands of the teachers and said that the latter should halt their boycott of correcting exams.

“It is not just for students to pay the price of 14 years of bad policy ... the students are hostages to this delay,” Diab told a local television station.

In Baalbek, east Lebanon, civil servants also complied with the committee’s call and protested outside public institutions, including Baalbek’s Serail. The workers also said that they would participate in the mass march to the Grand Serail in Beirut Wednesday.

In the south, secondary school teachers held an emergency meeting to discuss the move and maintained their boycott of correcting official examinations. The teachers said they rejected what they described as the government’s attempt to separate the teachers’ salary scale from the public sector.

Economy Minister Nicolas Nahas also commented on the strike following his meeting with Prime Minister Najib Mikati and said that the committee’s action would not yield results.

“If a strike could lead to a solution for any problem, I would be the first to protest,” Nahas told reporters at the Grand Serail.

He said the government’s resources were limited and that transcending them could lead to negative repercussions on the country’s economy.

There is growing concern among rating agencies that any hefty increase in spending could lead to a sharp rise in the budget deficit.

The government approved an unimaginative 2012 draft budget which did not include any major tax hikes and projected a deficit of 26 percent.

Mikati did not add a salary increase for the civil servants and public school teachers but promised instead to allocate additional funds for this purpose later this month.

The actual cost of the salary increase for the public sector could reach $1.2 billion, a figure that would surely have a negative impact on the budget deficit.

It is not clear how the Cabinet will finance the additional cost, but economists expect the Finance Ministry to issue treasury bills for this purpose.

Sources say Mikati may try to pass the salary package in two installments to ease the pressure on the treasury.

But civil servants and public school teachers have threatened to escalate their protests and hold demonstrations if all their demands are not met this week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 25, 2012, on page 5.




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