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Schools, government offices set to close for strike today

  • Taxi and truck drivers hold a protest demanding the government increase their social security benefits and enact the national transportation plan in Beirut, Monday, April 28, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Public schools and government offices in Lebanon will close Tuesday as teachers and state employees observe a general strike aimed at pressing MPs to endorse a controversial salary hike.

The strike will coincide with a mass march organized by the Union Coordination Committee on the Parliament building to reject any attempt to pay the salary increases over a three- or five-year period, as suggested by several lawmakers and economists.

The UCC has called for massive participation in the march, but it remains unclear how many civil servants and teachers will participate.

“We call on everyone to observe the planned nationwide strike Tuesday in all ministries, administrations, public and private schools, and technical colleges,” the head of the Association of State Employees Mahmoud Haidar said in a statement.

He also asked public sector employees to take part in the protest organized by the Union Coordination Committee, in which protesters will march from the Central Bank to Riad Solh Square outside Parliament.

The UCC has spearheaded several protests over the past two years in an attempt to press for the passage of the proposal, which was approved by the government and referred to the Parliament in 2013.

“We are Lebanon’s poor and we will not accept a new salary scale at the expense of the poor; rather it should be financed through bank benefits, taxes on real estate and illegal seaside property and putting an end to waste, corruption and smuggling at ports,” Haidar said.

“We reject any formula proposed by the parliamentary committee unless it takes into consideration the 121 percent increase as demanded.”

He also reiterated a demand for the government to pay the salary increase retroactively from June 1, 2012. “Let tomorrow be the day we make our response resonate against their procrastination in passing the salary scale,” he said.

The Air Transport Association announced that it would stop work at Beirut airport between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Wednesday in solidarity with the strike planned by the UCC.Private and public school teachers have warned that they would not correct final examinations to escalate the protest and further pressure MPs to pass the draft law.

Holcim cement factory workers also said they would join Tuesday’s strike.

In a show of support for the UCC, the General Labor Confederation also intends to stage another demonstration Wednesday.

GLC head Ghassan Ghosn told reporters the government and MPs were obliged to meet the demands of the civil servants and public school teachers.

But despite repeated calls to persuade private school teachers to join the strike Tuesday, the majority of these schools were expected to remain open.

Catholic schools have warned that any substantial wage hike for teachers would force these schools to either raise tuitions or lay off some staff.

Meanwhile, the budget and finance parliamentary committee intensified its meetings aimed at agreeing on ways to fund the proposed wage hike.

The MPs met with Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh, who reiterated his warning against any hasty decision to pay the salary increase in one shot, noting that such a step would cause both inflation and the budget deficit to rise to alarming levels.

The governor supports paying the increases over a five-year period to ease the pressure on the treasury.

But the UCC has said that it would not accept receiving the wage increase in installments.

Observers do not believe that the new salary scale will be passed in the coming days or weeks as most ]politicians and MPs will be fully focusing their attention on the presidential election.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 29, 2014, on page 1.
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Summary

Public schools and government offices in Lebanon will close Tuesday as teachers and state employees observe a general strike aimed at pressing MPs to endorse a controversial salary hike.

The strike will coincide with a mass march organized by the Union Coordination Committee on the Parliament building to reject any attempt to pay the salary increases over a three- or five-year period, as suggested by several lawmakers and economists.

The Air Transport Association announced that it would stop work at Beirut airport between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Wednesday in solidarity with the strike planned by the UCC.Private and public school teachers have warned that they would not correct final examinations to escalate the protest and further pressure MPs to pass the draft law.

Despite repeated calls to persuade private school teachers to join the strike Tuesday, the majority of these schools were expected to remain open.


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