BEIRUT: The Union Coordination Committee vowed to take protests to the Beirut airport and seaport Thursday and Friday as thousands rallied at the Education Ministry and across the country.
Hundreds of public school students joined civil servants at a large protest in Beirut Tuesday and urged the Cabinet to refer a delayed wage hike to Parliament.
“No learning before referring the salary scale [to Parliament],” Grade 12 student Khaled al-Kurdi said outside the Education Ministry in a speech addressed to the government.
“The salary scale is being studied and studied and studied while the students of Lebanon are not studying,” the representative of public high school students said.
Kurdi vowed to keep up the student action alongside the open-ended strike launched by the UCC on Feb. 19 until the demands of civil servants were met.
Parents, too, raised their voices demanding that teachers should be given their rights.
“Put an end to the disruption of the school year,” shouted Ayman Abdel-Sater, speaking on behalf of parents.
“Our children have been out of their classes for a third week in a row now ... the Cabinet has acknowledged the teachers’ righteous demands but [ministers] are still procrastinating,” said the father. “How much longer will you keep turning a deaf ear?
“Wake up so that our children don’t remain hostage to the streets,” he said.
UCC head Hanna Gharib accused the Economic Committees, a private sector group which opposes the referral of the wage scale to Parliament, of preventing the government from enforcing fines on violators of seaside property.
“You lost because you failed to separate between us [civil servants and public school teachers] and students and parents,” Gharib said, addressing the government.
The protest coincided with a Cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail in Beirut.
Speaking after the government meeting concluded, Information Minister Walid Daouk said the wage scale issue had not been brought up.
During the rally outside the Education Ministry, Gharib vowed that the unions would carry on with their strike until the salary scale was approved.
Gharib said protesters would target Baabda’s serail on Wednesday, adding that on Thursday and Friday the UCC would target Beirut port and the capital’s airport, which he described as “hubs of corruption.”
He reiterated that official exams for Grade 9 and 12 students would be postponed in accordance with the number of lost academic days due to the strike action.
Gharib said Monday that preparations were under way for a major rally to coincide with a Cabinet meeting on March 21, promised by President Michel Sleiman as a deadline for the government to finalize plans to fund the wage hikes.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati argues that more time is needed to study means of financing the salary scale as economic growth stagnates.
The private sector has also voiced deep reservations on plans to raise public sector salaries, warning that the step could create a heavier burden on the economy.
Rallies were also held across the country at the Education Ministry departments in Sidon, Tripoli, Tyre, Baabda, Halba, Jubeil and other cities and towns across Lebanon.
“This week will be crucial for our demands; prepare and mobilize well to heed the call of the Union Coordination Committee in all the planned demonstrations,” Fidaa Tabikh, head of the teachers’ association in Akkar, told protesters in Halba.