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Protesters to stage sit-in near Presidential Palace

  • Teachers and civil servants protest in front of the Industry Ministry in Beirut.

BEIRUT: Civil servants and public school teachers vowed to take their protest to the president’s door Tuesday as they headed into the third week of an open-ended strike in demand of salary hikes.

“Tomorrow’s strike will be held at 10 a.m. around the corner from the Presidential Palace,” the head of the Union Coordination Committee Hanna Gharib announced.

“We would be grateful to you [President Michel Sleiman] if you would refer the pay scale [to Parliament],” Hanna said during a protest outside the Industry Ministry in Beirut.

Gharib said Monday the UCC was determined to proceed with its open-ended strike until the controversial pay hike bill is referred to Parliament.

However, private school teachers suspended their participation in the strike after Sleiman promised the new salary scale would be referred to Parliament in three weeks.

All private schools across Lebanon, some of which had been disrupted by the strike that kicked off Feb. 19, resumed classes Monday following the decision by private school teachers.

The head of the Private School Teachers Association, Nehme Mahfoud, said Sunday that Sleiman intervened with Prime Minister Najib Mikati and “they agreed that the salary hike would be referred to Parliament during the first Cabinet session after March 21.”

Mahfoud denied there were disagreements within UCC ranks and said the resumption of classes at private schools did not mean that the Private Teachers Association was suspending its membership in the union.

The Economic Committees, a leading private sector group, continued to campaign against the wage hikes, warning again of their dire impact on the economy.

“The Lebanese economy has been in an unprecedented decline and recession,” said head of the Committees Adnan Kassar following a meeting with MP Michel Aoun.

“We are not against workers’ rights and improving their conditions but at the same time we are against an imaginary raise that will not meet their aspirations ... and heavily impact economic stability and purchasing power,” he added.

However, Kassar added the group was willing to consider supporting a wage hike under the right conditions: “We are open to proposals that do not change the structure of the economy and increase taxation.”

Hezbollah Minister of State for Administrative Affairs Mohammad Fneish said the new salary scale was inescapable: “Delay will not serve the state and will result in huge economic losses that are comparable to the wage increases.”

He said there was a significant difference between paying the wage increases in installments, as agreed before, and dividing the raises over several years, as proposed by the Finance Ministry.

The Association of Lebanese University Emeritus Professors said it would sue the state if the salaries of retired employees were excluded from the salary scale or if new taxes or cuts affected salaries of retired personnel.

“We preserve the right to take to sue any authority at the Shura Council, if it violates the rights of the retirees,” a statement said, adding members would join ongoing UCC demonstrations.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 05, 2013, on page 5.
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