BEIRUT: A spirited protest against the government’s delay in finalizing a public sector wage hike entered its fourth week Monday, with a rally targeting Lebanon’s public telecoms operator Ogero.
Police briefly blocked the road at the BHV mall intersection in Bir Hasan, south of Beirut, to facilitate the UCC-led demonstration which headed toward Ogero’s headquarters, a few meters away.
Those in the rally, spearheaded by Hanna Gharib, the head of the UCC – a coalition grouping civil servants and public sector teachers – reiterated their demand that the government refer the new wage scale to Parliament for approval.
“Financing [the pay scale] has to be done at the expense of the rich, not the poor,” the head of the UCC Hanna Gharib told the protesters.
He revealed that preparations were under way for a major rally on March 21 to coincide with a Cabinet meeting.
President Michel Sleiman has pledged to push forward salary increases and refer the new wage scale to Parliament in the first Cabinet session after March 21.
“Our strike would not have taken place in the first place had everyone been responsible in this matter and taken a firm decision,” Gharib told the Voice of Lebanon radio station earlier Monday.
Meanwhile, at the Vehicle Inspection Center in the Beirut neighborhood of Dekwaneh, some 200 car showroom owners demonstrated against the strike action.
“We have to pay additional fees for every extra day the car registration is late,” complained one protester.
Succumbing to pressure, employees opened their computer sets and began registration, only to be interrupted soon afterward by the head of the center, Maroun Msallam, who ordered them to stop working and turned off the power generators.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati says more time is needed to study means of financing the wage scale.
He says the country's economic growth prompted him to be more patient in finalizing the pay hike.
The Economic Committees, representing the private sector, have rallied against the approval of the wage scale, saying it could create a heavier burden on the economy already reeling under bad conditions.
The UCC was gearing up for a major rally outside the Education Ministry Tuesday to put more pressure on Mikati’s government.
Last week, Mikati said he would not bow down to pressure from the strike action.
Gharib called Monday on parents, students and teachers to take part in Tuesday’s rally and said that official exams for Grade 9 and Grade 12 students would be postponed in accordance with the number of lost academic days due to the strike action.
“Official exams will be postponed .... And students will not miss out any learning time,” Gharib stressed during his Monday morning interview.
Official exams typically begin in the month of June.
The Union Coordination Committee launched an open-ended strike on Feb. 19 and has since held a series of protests outside several ministries and key public institutions.
As on previous days, public schools and many government services remained shut Monday.