Teachers, public sector workers to take to streets

Industry Ministry employees hold signs outside the ministry demanding adjustments to public sector salaries in Beirut on Tuesday, June 17, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Thousands of school teachers and civil servants plan to rally Wednesday to press the government and Cabinet to implement a long-awaited salary scale.

Most private and public schools in the country will close as a result of the strikes waged by teachers, demonstration organizers and the Union Coordination Committee said.

“The general strike would be observed in all public and private schools, high schools, institutes and public administrations,” a statement issued by the UCC said.

“We expect extremely good participation in the strike and teachers from across the country will participate in the central demonstration. Participation [in the protest] could exceed 15,000,” Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC, told The Daily Star.

The main demonstration will begin at 11 a.m. at the UNESCO Palace and will head toward the Grand Serail, the UCC statement said.

“We call on teachers, public employees, retired and contractual public workers as well as their families and other associations to heavily participate in the demonstration,” it added.

The UCC vowed that the demonstration would remain peaceful, saying it aims to urge the government to send the draft law to raise salaries for public sector employees to Parliament.

The Cabinet approved a substantial raise for civil servants and public school teachers, but the decision still needs approval from Parliament.

The Cabinet has shown reluctance to send the bill to Parliament until it reaches an agreement to secure funds to finance the mass salary increases.

Most ministers have resisted tax hikes to fund the salary scale amid economic recession, realizing such a measure could spark protests in the country.

Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private Schools Teachers Association, said it was important for private school teachers to join the strike. “We call on all private school teachers to follow the strike,” he said.

Observers say that private school teachers will press their schools to raise their salaries once the public wage hike is implemented.

Mahfoud insisted that most private school teachers will likely ignore advice from their schools not to take part in the strike or demonstration.

“It is natural for [private] schools to open their doors, but the teachers will observe the decision of their association to strike, which is [a right] guaranteed in the Lebanese Constitution,” Mahfoud said.

He said any school owner who threatens teachers would be sued by the association under Lebanese law “and will be shamed in media.”

The Economic Committees, a private-sector group that opposes the raise, renewed their outright rejection of the draft law in a statement Tuesday. “Taking to the streets would only complicate the situation,” the statement said.

“Workers and employees have no interest in getting the raise, which will evaporate [because of inflation] and lower purchasing power,” the statement added.

The Committees called on Prime Minister Najib Mikati to take a firm stance against the draft law “because of its endless negative consequences on the Lebanese economy.”

The statement added that they are open for dialogue.

“We are committed to dialogue to resolve differences away from demonstrations, which will not only fail to resolve problems but make matters worse,” it said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 10, 2012, on page 1.




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