BEIRUT: Civil servants and school teachers intend to stage a major rally close to Rafik Hariri International Airport Friday in another bid to compel the Cabinet to pass the controversial salary scale to Parliament.
The Union Coordination Committee, which groups civil servants and public school teachers, says that these roaming sit-ins will not end as long as their demands fall on deaf ears.
The UCC, which plans to hold another big rally near the Grand Serail on March 21, has nearly crippled most of the key public departments with daily sit-ins and demonstrations across the country.
But the civil aviation department said in a statement Thursday that the sit-in would have no effect on the traffic and flights at the airport.
Riot police and Army personnel will deploy in and around the airport Friday to keep the protesters away from the terminal and facilitate the movement of passengers.
The UCC did not say that it would block the roads leading to the airport or hint that it would storm the terminal.
On Thursday, the UCC carried out a protest outside Beirut Port.
A crowd of about 300 public workers, spearheaded by the head of the UCC Hanna Gharib, gathered at the entrance of the port, shouting slogans against Prime Minister Najib Mikati, who has refused to bow to strike pressure, and his government.
“You can fund the salary scale through the ports’ [customs fees],” Gharib said, addressing the Cabinet.
“Smuggling via the port is not done by employees but by tycoons,” Gharib complained, while praising Port workers who responded to the UCC call for protest.
The president of the Association of State Employees Mahmoud Haidar warned the government against taking money from the poor:
“You are not allowed to finance the salary scale from our pockets or the pockets of the poor.
“You must fund it through the pockets of those who have been smuggling money over the past 20 years and are responsible for $60 billion in public debt.”
From Beirut Port, the demonstrators marched to the nearby Zaitunay Bay waterfront promenade.
Describing the marina venture as illegal, Gharib said Zaitunay Bay, filled with restaurants, cafes and boutiques, was owned by a Cabinet minister.
“Zaitunay Bay ... was established through the Treasury from people’s money under the pretext of building a port,” Gharib said.
He said Treasury funds were given to real estate giant Solidere with the right to invest for a period of 50 years, renewable at LL2,500 per meter annually.
Solidere is a joint-stock company in charge of redeveloping Downtown Beirut after the conclusion in 1990 of the country’s devastating Civil War.
The UCC Wednesday vowed 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,” Gharib said Wednesday.
All public schools and most government services have been shut since the UCC launched its open-ended strike Feb. 19.
Citizens and business owners have complained that obtaining essential paperwork has become difficult.
A new salary scale for the public sector was approved by the Cabinet seven months ago, 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.
Mikati has argued 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.
The private school teachers, which did not participate in the sit-ins this week, has vowed to take to the street on March 21 if Mikati continues to stall in passing the salary scale.
But it is not clear whether all private schools in the country will close next week if the teachers keep their pledge to go on strike.