Strike to go on if ‘unacceptable’ changes made to salary scale

Prime Minister Najib Mikati speaks during an interview with The Daily Star at the Grand Serail in Beirut, Monday, July 2, 2012. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: A union of public workers said Sunday it would go ahead with an open-ended strike commencing Tuesday after the government amended a previously agreed draft salary scale in an attempt to assuage private sector concerns over its impact. “There is no way that we will give up on any of our demands. We will not accept any discounts, payment in installments, or excluding pensioners,” Hanna Gharib, head of the Union Coordination Committee, told The Daily Star.

“They [the government] can secure the funds needed for the salary scale by cracking down on corruption such as tax evasion and stolen public seaside properties as well as squandering by Lebanese officials,” he said.

Gharib said the strike would probably take place as previously planned given signs that the government introduced “unacceptable” adjustments to lower the cost of the wage increases.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati had agreed Friday to move the wage hike issue to the Parliament Monday in an attempt to avert the strike.

Mikati defended his government’s decision to introduce amendments to the draft before sending it to Parliament, arguing that ministers had changed the proposal so that it would not negatively impact the private sector.

Despite these amendments, the Economic Committees, a leading private sector group that lobbied hard against the raises, said Saturday it would boycott future dialogue with the Cabinet and labor unions to protest the government’s action.

The private sector has warned against approving the new salary scale, especially the plan to raise taxes on the sector to fund the wage hike for civil servants, which would cost $1.2 billion annually.

The Economic Committees argued that the damage the private sector would incur should the wage hike be approved far outweighed the economic cost of strikes: “It will deal a blow to the national economy either deliberately or via negligence.”

The private sector has said that raising taxes under the prevailing economic conditions in the country would further exacerbate the situation and deal a final blow to all sectors.

Hours after representatives of the private sector announced they would boycott the tripartite dialogue, Mikati released a statement slamming the group’s move and saying his government had amended the draft law to avoid imposing new taxes.

“What surprised me the most was their announcement to boycott upcoming dialogue sessions in a hasty and reactionary manner before studying the amendments we have introduced to the draft salary scale law,” Mikati told visitors at the Grand Serail.

“The amended version does not include any additional taxes on the consumer or the investor.

“Contrary to what was mentioned in the statement by the Economic Committees, the proposal actually includes wide reform measures at the administrative level and amendments to reduce the financial burden,” the prime minister said.

No further details were available on what changes the Cabinet made to the draft law before agreeing to submit it to Parliament.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 18, 2013, on page 5.




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