BEIRUT: The head of the Union Coordination Committee accused Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government Thursday of lacking the intention to finalize a public sector wage scale, as the country’s private sector warned of “disastrous” effects should the pay hike be referred to Parliament.
"They [Cabinet] have not set a deadline for referring the pay scale for the purposes of procrastinating because they do not want to refer it,” Hanna Gharib, the head of the UCC, told civil servants and public school teachers protesting outside the Tender Administration Office in Verdun, Beirut.
The UCC launched its open-ended strike on Feb. 19 and has pledged to carry on until the government refers a draft wage scale to Parliament for approval.
“Refer the salary scale to Parliament and then [economic] growth will go up,” Gharib, who linked the delay in finalizing the wage scale to poor economic growth in the country, said during the protest.
“It’s not the wage scale that has slowed growth from 5 to 1 percent, but rather the failure to refer the salary scale is behind the slow growth,” Gharib said.
Mikati, who argues more time is needed to study methods of financing the wage scale, said in an interview earlier this week that the sharp decline in economic growth needed to be taken into account when considering the issue of the pay hike.
Meanwhile, the head of the Economic Committees, which represent the private sector and have opposed the referral of the wage scale, reiterated during a meeting with President Michel Sleiman the “disastrous” effects the pay scale would have on Lebanon should it be approved.
“We discussed the salary scale and I reiterated to President Sleiman the Economic Committees’ stance against the approval of the scale in these particular circumstances due to the disastrous effects it would have on the infrastructure of the Lebanese economy,” Adnan Kassar told reporters at Baabda Palace.
Sleiman has pledged to push forward salary increases and refer the new wage scale to Parliament in the first Cabinet session after March 21.
At the rally in Verdun, Gharib said the various reasons put forward for the delay did not reflect the true positions of political or economic officials and accused several ministers of issuing threats over the UCC call for the open-ended strike.
“To the ministers who are threatening ministry employees, particularly at the Industry Ministry, I tell them that we have overcome the issue of sit-ins and strikes a while ago after the formation of committees [to coordinate] strike action at the various ministries.” he said.
Gharib urged on behalf of the UCC that the committees be declared “independent union groups in the face of corruption.”
His remarks came ahead of a major protest planned for later Thursday.
Gharib called Wednesday for an all-out public sector strike at 3:30 p.m. outside UNESCO Palace to coincide with Teachers’ Day.
On Wednesday, Gharib stepped up his attack against the Economic Committees and Mikati’s government, saying members of the private sector “refuse to finance the salary scale from [revenues collected] from [coastal properties] and from illicit [funds].”
“The battle of the public sector is only the beginning and we will not succumb to the money tycoons,” he told civil servants and public school teachers who rallied outside the Energy Ministry Wednesday.
Mikati Monday said he would not bow down to pressure from the unions and said the salary scale would not be referred while the strike continued.