BEIRUT: The Union Coordination Committee ramped up its rhetoric Thursday, warning that nationwide sit-ins and strikes would continue until demands to adopt a new salary scale were fully met.
Some of the UCC leaders who took part in a commemoration of Teachers’ Day at UNESCO Palace directed angry accusations against the MPs and ministers who took part in the event.
One teacher spontaneously took to the podium and blasted the MPs and ministers who made speeches, accusing them of exploiting the event for election purposes.
“We don’t want any of your promises and claims. This podium is not meant for election speeches. If you care about our grievances then help us pass the salary scale bill,” the unidentified teacher said.
Hanna Gharib, the head of the Public School Teachers Union, rushed to the podium to persuade the teacher to end his verbal attacks against the participating MPs and ministers.
All of the MPs and ministers who took part in the commemoration defended the demands of teachers for better pay, with some of the ministers slamming their own Cabinet for doing nothing to appease the strikers.
The speakers stressed that the Cabinet could easily secure money for the teachers and civil servants if their intentions were true.
Earlier in the day, the teachers and civil servants held a rally next to the Tender Administration Office in the Verdun neighborhood of Beirut.
The speakers accused Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government of lacking the will to finalize a public sector wage scale increase, as the country’s private sector warned of “disastrous” effects should the pay hike be referred to Parliament.
“They [the Cabinet] have not set a deadline for referring the pay scale for the purposes of procrastinating because they do not want to refer it,” Gharib told the protesters.
The UCC launched its open-ended strike on Feb. 19 and has pledged to carry on until the government refers a draft wage scale increase 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 that 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.
As the UCC dug in its heels over its demands, the head of the Economic Committees, which represents the private sector and opposes the referral of the wage scale issue, reiterated during a meeting with President Michel Sleiman that the measure would have “disastrous” effects it 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.
Tension between the Committees and the UCC has been building over the last few weeks, with both sides piling pressure on the government.
Gharib earlier this week took aim at both the Economic Committees and Mikati’s Cabinet.
“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 on Wednesday.
Mikati said Monday he would not bow to pressure from the unions and that the salary scale would not be referred while the strike continued.