Planned strike over public wage hike gains wider participation

FILE - Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private Schools Teachers Association speaks during a teachers' protest that was part of a general strike by civil servants outside the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut, Wednesday, July 25, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Lebanon is bracing for a strike by teachers and public sector employees Wednesday as more associations confirmed over the weekend their participation in the protests.

The Union Coordination Committee, which announced the strike last week, is urging the government to refer to Parliament without further delay a draft law increasing public wages.

Joining private and public teachers in their demands, an association representing contractual teachers also said Saturday that it would participate in the strike to demand equality with their full-time counterparts.

“The government’s financial pretext [for not hiring contractual employees as full timers] is not valid,” the statement said.

“The government did justice to over 50,000 Internal Security Forces personnel and over 60,000 civilian and military employees. How can [financial reasons] be behind the failure to do the same for less than 7,000 contractual teachers,” it added.

Castro Abdallah, head of the National Labor Confederation, also said his group would participate in the strike planned for Wednesday.

“The action Wednesday is to salvage what remains of Lebanese workers unions after the General Labor Confederation made a despicable settlement that we are still paying for,” he said, in reference to a private sector-GLC deal that ended a row over a wage increase in January.

Despite the criticism often voiced by UCC members and union heads, the GLC said it supports the planned strike led by the Committee.

“We support all actions and demands for the endorsement of the new salary hike and [insist on] its payment in full, not in installments,” said vice president of the GLC Hasan Fakih, who nevertheless failed to confirm the GLC’s participation in the strike.

Instead the GLC said that a meeting, to take place on the day of the strike, would discuss the salary scale issue. The GLC has repeatedly opposed any tax hikes to finance the new salary scale. The cost of the raise is estimated at no less than $1 billion annually.

Sources close to Prime Minister Najib Mikati told local newspaper As-Safir there was no need for an escalation by labor unions and vowed to refer the draft law to Parliament soon.

“The government did what it had to do in this regard, and the wage scale will be referred to Parliament along with the resources that would cover its costs,” he told the paper.

Despite endorsing it last month, the Cabinet has yet to forward the draft law, which drew sharp criticism from the private sector’s Economic Committees.

The group has been lobbying against the raise, warning that it would push the economy into bankruptcy if passed.

According to studies handed by the committees to the Cabinet and leading Lebanese politicians, Lebanon’s Treasury deficit could soar from $4 billion to $6.5 billion if the new scale is passed.

Taxes needed to finance the wage increases would amount to a staggering 10 percent of Lebanon’s gross domestic product, dealing a crippling blow to the economy, they said.

Figures released by the Finance Ministry last week show fiscal deficit reached $1.2 billion in the first seven months of 2012, up by some 46.5 percent from $798 million last year. Expenditures reached $7.2 billion, up 10.7 percent, while revenues increased by 5.7 percent to $6 billion.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 08, 2012, on page 5.




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