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Union: Accounting errors a stall tactic on wage hike

Teachers and civil servants protest in Beirut, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: The Union Coordination Committee Wednesday accused the Finance Ministry of intentionally submitting salary scale bills with errors in them in a bid to delay the ratification of a wage hike in Parliament.

“On three different occasions the Finance Ministry has sent a salary scale plan that contained accounting errors. Had they assigned school children to draft the salary scale, they would have been successful by now,” said Nehme Mahfoud, who heads the Private Teachers Association, a key group in the UCC.

Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC, echoed Mahfoud’s views.

“Between errors made by the Finance Ministry and the ambiguity of [caretaker Prime Minister Najib] Mikati, they have managed to delay the salary scale for many months,” he said. “But they are mistaken if they think that the UCC will fail to act.”

The UCC said it would go ahead with a planned protest at the Finance Ministry in Downtown Beirut Thursday at noon at the Riad al-Solh Square in Downtown Beirut, despite the security situation in Tripoli. But civil society groups are expected to join the protest to call for an end to the violence in Tripoli, Gharib and Mahfoud said.

“We recognize that the salary scale is not the top national priority now. The country’s second biggest city is burning and political sides have failed to give the Lebanese Army the political cover needed to curb violence,” a furious Mahfoud said over the telephone from his Tripoli home.

At least 11 people have been killed over the past few days during clashes in the northern city.

The two union leaders said state workers would renew regular protests once the situation in the country stabilizes, but added that teachers would not go on strike or delay the date of official exams.

“We will not take any measures that affect the future of our students,” Mahfoud added.

However, Mahfoud and Gharib said that if the government fails to pass the draft salary scale to Parliament within the coming weeks, teachers would delay the correction of exams and public sector workers would launch a widespread strike.

The UCC, a coalition of teachers and public sector employees, suspended a five-week-long strike in March after the Cabinet agreed to pass the controversial salary scale. The next day the Cabinet resigned.

Mahfoud said President Michel Sleiman promised the UCC Saturday that the salary scale would be finalized by the Finance Ministry and sent to Mikati by Tuesday, a pledge that failed to materialize.

Gharib said he had unconfirmed information that caretaker Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi had signed an updated draft law Wednesday, but he said he had not received a copy of the draft.

“We have to wait and see what Safadi has signed today, because he had already put his signatures on several drafts that had errors,” he said.

The UCC has rejected a government bid to increase working hours with the wage hike draft. It has also rejected a government plan to pay the salary raises over five years and take a 10-percent cut from the value of the increases.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 23, 2013, on page 5.

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