BEIRUT: Civil servants and teachers will march Thursday toward the presidential palace in the biggest demonstration planned since the Union Coordination Committee went on strike in February to demand a wage increase.
“There is not one single bus from Naqoura in south Lebanon to Akkar in the north that is not booked to take protesters to Baabda,” said Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private School Teachers’ Association.
“It will be the biggest labor demonstration to be witnessed in Lebanon, and the absolute majority of private school teachers will participate.”
The demonstration will be held some 15 kilometers east of Beirut near the presidential palace in Baabda and is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m.
It will take place as the Cabinet meets under President Michel Sleiman to assess the wage hike draft bill before referring it to Parliament for ratification.
If passed, the long-awaited salary increase would be tied to an increase in civil servant working hours and a tax hike on luxury goods, Minister of State Marwan Kheireddine told The Daily Star Tuesday.
According to a copy of the draft bill seen by The Daily Star, the wage hike would be paid in installments to ease the burden on the state’s treasury.
While the UCC had previously insisted that the wage hike be paid in full, the coalition’s representatives seemed to have since backed down on their previous demand and showed willingness to accept the compromise solution proposed by the Cabinet.
When asked whether the UCC would accept the payment of the wage increase in increments, Mahfoud told The Daily Star: “The original Cabinet proposal stipulated that the wage scale would be paid in installments.
“We will decide whether to continue with the strike once the draft bill is referred to Parliament,” he added.
Thursday’s strike is expected to paralyze all key government departments, public and private schools and Beirut-Rafik Hariri International Airport.
Airport staff announced Wednesday they would be joining air traffic controllers in their previously announced four-hour strike that will halt flights at the airport between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“We will close the airport and we will close all private schools,” UCC head Hanna Gharib said during a rally Wednesday outside the car registration department in Dikwaneh, Beirut.
The secretary-general of Catholic Schools, Boutros Azar, declined to comment on whether schools under his umbrella would be closed as a result of the strike. “Every [Catholic] school knows what it has to do. We do not want to discuss this with the media and we will work to avoid any chaos,” he told The Central News Agency.
Gharib warned that the union would further escalate its movement if the Cabinet failed to refer the salary increase to Parliament Thursday.