BEIRUT: An open-ended strike by teachers and public sector employees entered its fourth week Monday, as more civil servants halted work in key public departments.
The Union Coordination Committee, a coalition of teachers’ and public servants’ unions, rallied at the headquarters of telecoms operator Ogero, where employees of the state-owned company joined the demonstration.
At the Vehicle Inspection Center in the Beirut neighborhood of Dikwaneh, some 200 car showroom owners demonstrated against the strike action, which they said had a big impact on their business.
“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.
The protesters at Ogero reiterated calls for the government to 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,” Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC, told the protesters, adding that funds for the raise should come from taxing bank profits and occupants of state property as well as by combating corruption and wasteful spending.
He said teachers and public employees would be joined by students and parents in a major rally scheduled for Tuesday at the Education Ministry in Beirut’s Cola at 10 a.m.
He added that official exams for Grade 9 and Grade 12 students would be postponed in accordance with the number of academic days lost due to the strike action.
“Official exams will be postponed. ... Students will not miss out on any learning time,” Gharib stressed during a Monday morning interview.
Police briefly blocked a road intersection in Bir Hassan, south of Beirut, to facilitate the UCC-led demonstration which headed toward Ogero’s headquarters, a few meters away, and went on to the Adnan Kassar Economic Edifice – to protest Kassar’s Economic Committees’ tough position on the raise.
The Telecoms Ministry said people unable to pay their bills would not face action from the company.
The leader of the Progressive Socialist MP Walid Jumblatt warned against any hasty decision to approve raising the wages for public sector employees, although he acknowledged the demands of the UCC.
“Taking the decision to pass the salary scale arbitrarily, can leave negative impacts on many levels,” he said in a statement, adding that divergence in wage levels in the public sector had widened while calling for the reassessment of the wages in the public sector at all levels
Jumblatt said reforming the public sector had become more urgent in light of the new salary scale, adding that increasing the sector’s productivity was necessary.
He also called on the government to mull ways to fund the wage increases.
He even called for slashing the wages and benefits of the MPs and ministers.
Gharib said that preparations were under way for a major rally on March 21 to coincide with a Cabinet meeting, promised by the president as a deadline for the government to finalize plans to fund the wage hikes.
“It will be the greatest day in this protest. The crowd will be huge in demand of passing the wage scale [during the session],” he said.
Sleiman last week pledged to push forward the salary increases and refer the new wage scale to Parliament in the first Cabinet session after March 21.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati says more time is needed to study means of financing the wage scale as economic growth stagnated.
The Economic Committees, representing the private sector, have expressed deep reservations on plans to raise the salaries of the public sector, warning that this step could create a heavier burden on the economy which is already reeling under bad conditions.