BEIRUT: Civil servants are expected to spearhead the Union Coordination Committee protests, vowing to bring the already strike-crippled public sector to a complete halt ahead of a key Cabinet meeting scheduled for next week.
“All administrative paperwork will be completely halted at the Finance Ministry, the Justice Ministry and real-estate registration offices until March 21,” said Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC, at a demonstration at the Baabda Serail Wednesday.
Most public offices have already suspended services over the past weeks with citizens and business owners complaining that obtaining essential paperwork has become impossible.
“The protest is [snowballing], it is about the whole public sector – from which over 1 million Lebanese earn their living,” Gharib told protesters.
The UCC will be protesting Thursday at Zaytunay Bay and the Port of Beirut at 10 a.m. and will take its almost-daily demonstration Rafik Hariri International Airport Friday.
Public sector employees and teachers marched toward the Baabda Serail Wednesday in yet another protest against the government’s failure to finalize the issue of their wage hike.
For 23 consecutive days, the UCC, which groups civil servants and teachers, has held daily protests in demand of salary hikes.
A new salary scale for the public sector was approved about seven months ago by the Cabinet, but the decision was put on hold for further study due to the lack of financing and strong opposition from the private sector’s Economic Committees, a group of employers’ and businessmen’s associations.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said the Cabinet needs more time to look into means to finance the pay hike before he refers the draft law to Parliament for a vote.
During Wednesday’s protest outside the presidential palace, Gharib ridiculed Mikati’s comments that the salary scale issue would be resolved soon.
When asked about the salary scale issue during Tuesday’s Cabinet session, Mikati reportedly said: “Consider it done on March 21.”
He was referring to the Cabinet session scheduled to be headed by President Michel Sleiman to make a final decision about the salary scale for thousands of civil servants and teachers of both private and public schools.
“You should go to the public and the media and say that you will refer the salary scale on March 21 and you would spare students from anotherweek of strike,” Gharib said.
Gharib has launched scathing attacks against the private sector, which is represented by the Economic Committees, for heavily rallying against the adoption of the new wage hike.
Private sector employers believe the raise will burden the national economy, and they have refused additional taxes needed to fund the raise.
The UCC Tuesday marched toward the Education Ministry and vowed that the final examinations for thousands of students would be delayed for as long as the government delays the referral. This would put the fate of some 400,000 students in public schools on hold.
The General Labor Confederation, another group of labor unions, slammed the recently submitted 2013 budget proposal, saying that raising the VAT on cars and cellphone fees would deal a blow to low-income families.
The GLC called on the government to implement a yearly wage increase equivalent to the inflation rates, which they said stood at 11 percent in 2012.
The union described the way the government has been handling the public sector wage scale as “futile.”
“The new salary scale is an established right for public servants and teachers as well as armed forces. We fully support this right but we vehemently refuse to fund the salary scale from workers and low-income families,” the statement added.
But most observers believe that even if Mikati refers the salary scale to Parliament this month, the chances of approving this bill is very remote, if not impossible, given the deep political division in the country.