BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Union Coordination Committee called for an all-out public sector strike Thursday as it blasted the Economic Committees for allegedly evading taxes and fees.
“The battle of the public sector is only the beginning and we will not succumb to the money tycoons,” UCC head Hanna Gharib told civil servants and public school teachers who rallied outside the Energy Ministry.
Gharib stepped up his attack against the Economic Committees and the government, saying members of the private sector “refuse to finance the salary scale from [revenues collected] from [coastal properties] and from illicit [funds].”
“Coastal property belongs to you, citizens,” Gharib told the crowd. “Reclaim it.”
Gharib’s speech drew a sharp response from the Economic Committees, which slammed the UCC for “degenerating into cheap rhetoric that reached the level of accusing the private sector of committing treason.”
“The UCC will not gain anything from continuing in this tensed rhetoric against the Economic Committees. This only reflects the UCC’s bankruptcy,” the statement added.
The committees reiterated that they were not against the public sector wage increases but rejected the passing of such a measure under the current economic challenges.
During the demonstration, Gharib called for a major protest planned on Teachers’ Day.
“Teachers’ Day is a day of joy and the triumph of this cause,” he said.
Private teachers will not return to the strike Thursday, head of their association Nehme Mahfoud told The Daily Star. They will, however, participate in the UCC gathering at the UNESCO Palace in Beirut.
He said a failure to forward the draft law by Mar. 21 would mean private school teachers would rejoin the strike.
Private school teachers, who took part in previous protests when the strike was launched, suspended their participation Monday after the president promised that the salary scale would be forwarded to Parliament in a few weeks.
Most public schools and many government offices have upheld the open-ended strike.
Energy Minister Gibran Bassil, who met a UCC delegation, argues that the government has the means to fund the salary scale if it ends waste and fights corruption. “Each [area] of squandering is alone enough to fund the new salary scale,” he told the delegation.
He slammed the Cabinet for failing to take action to reduce the soaring electricity deficit, which exceeded $2 billion in 2012. “[Eliminating the electricity sector deficit] can result in saving 10 times the funding [still] needed for salary scale,” he said.
He added that Cabinet had refrained from building a coastal gas pipeline and Liquefied Natural Gas import terminal designed to operate power plants with cheaper natural gas instead of the more expensive fuel oil.
“Building the gas pipeline can save up to $1.05 billion a year,” he said.
The value of the wage increases demanded by the UCC has been estimated at no less than $1.2 billion a year. But the prime minister has said another wage increase, given back in Feb. 2012, meant that 60 percent of the raises has already been settled, an argument totally rejected by the UCC.