BEIRUT/SIDON: Prime Minister Najib Mikati insists he requires more time to finalize the new public sector wage hike as civil servants continued for a third day their open-ended strike Thursday.
“I urge the [Union] Coordination Committee to suspend the strike and start dealing with this issue in a responsible manner,” Mikati said in remarks published Thursday in As-Safir newspaper.
“My advice to the [Union] Coordination Committee is to be patient and let me weave the threads of the salary scale slowly,” he added.
As part of their strike action, civil servants held a rally outside the Education Ministry at UNESCO Palace and reiterated their demand that the government refer the wage hike to Parliament.
The UCC has accused Mikati of succumbing to pressure from the Economic Committees by breaking an earlier promise to approve the wage hike bill and refer it to Parliament for ratification this week.
In his remarks to As-Safir, Mikati said he had not reneged on his previous announcement and that he needed more time.
“I did not backtrack on my agreement with the [Union] Coordination Committee but there is a need for a brief period of time to finalize the file and refer the salary scale to Parliament,” he said.
“Let me do my job and I will promote the salary scale to the Economic committees in a way that will reassure them,” he said, addressing civil servants.
The Economic Committees, representing the country’s private sector, have rallied against the adoption of a new salary scale, saying it would add additional burdens on the national economy that is already reeling under bad circumstances.
Mikati plans to amend urban zoning regulations to increase the investment factor, allowing for an additional floor in buildings in return for higher taxes, which will be used to finance the wage hike that is estimated to cost the treasury more than $1.2 billion a year.
A number of key state institutions and public schools across Lebanon were paralyzed Wednesday as demonstrators threatened to freeze work at a new government department each day until they receive a wage hike.
Speaking to hundreds of teachers and civil servants outside the UNESCO Palace, Nehme Mahfoud, the head of the Association of Private Schools Teachers said the government should be held responsible for the strike and ensuing consequences.
"The government should take responsibility for this open-ended strike," Mahfoud said. "We have taken to the streets and we will not leave as tomorrow's protest will be outside the Agriculture Ministry."
President Michel Sleiman said at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday that the new salary scale had been approved by the government and that Mikati would soon refer it to Parliament.
Mikati told As-Safir that the damage from the strike was still much less than the harm to the economy had the salary scale been referred to Parliament without securing the finances.
In the coastal city of Sidon, around 700 teachers marched from the Sidon Serail to Central Bank’s street, chanting slogans slamming Mikati and representatives of the private sector as well as Central Bank Governor Riyad Salameh who they described as “the protector of the Economic Committees.”
A member of the Teachers’ Association in Sidon said Mikati should immediately forward the salary scale to Parliament, threatening to paralyze the entire public education sector.
“No one should think that we will calm down but we will escalate our moves and Mikati should refer the scale to Parliament immediately because it is our right,” Ismat al-Qawwas said.
“They need to know that we can paralyze the country,” he added.