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Parliament committee fails to pass wage hike

The parliamentary joint committee convenes at the Parliament in Beirut, Friday, March 28, 2014. (The Daily Star/Lebanese Parliament Website, HO)

BEIRUT: The parliamentary joint committee failed Friday to agree on how to finance the controversial salary scale increase as the Union Coordination Committee threatened to escalate the situation if its demands were not met.

The head of the Budget and Finance Parliamentary Committee, Ibrahim Kanaan, told reporters that the discussions on the subject had been postponed until further notice, claiming that the MPs had completed the biggest part of the debate.

However, Future MP Ghazi Youssef dismissed Kanaan’s plan to finance the new salary scale as unrealistic and called on his colleagues to find a more realistic proposal that would not add strains to the government’s budget.

Several MPs told The Daily Star off the record that they were reluctant to endorse the salary scale but were too afraid to voice objections publicly as this could provoke a backlash from the public school teachers and government employees.

The head of the Union Coordination Committee, Hanna Gharib, threatened to take steps to force Parliament to pass the salary scale.

“The committee will hold a meeting this Saturday to discuss the steps to be taken if the demands are not fully met. We will not hesitate to escalate the situation if we see any procrastination,” Gharib said.

The government fears that public and private school teachers as well as government employees will call for an open strike in the near future.

One MP told The Daily Star that most of the proposals to fund the salary scale were unrealistic.

“Some of the MPs realize that any hasty decision to increase the salaries of the public employees would not only widen the budget deficit, but also cause inflation to rise to alarming levels. Even the Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh has warned against such an irrational step,” the MP said.

Adnan Kassar, the head of the Economic Committees, which groups most of the business leaders in the country, called for a general meeting Monday at the Chambers of Commerce to voice objections to the salary scale.

Kassar said that the private sector was not against the rights of the teachers and employees, but he cautioned that any attempt to increase the salaries haphazardly could have a catastrophic impact on the Lebanese economy.

Kassar and a delegation of the business leaders intend to visit the president, prime minister and speaker of Parliament to convince them to drop any plan to raise the salaries at this delicate time.

The private sector insists that the best way to meet the demands of the workers is to cut waste in public departments and implement reforms.

Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil is planning to introduce new taxes in his 2014 draft budget to finance the salary scale.

But observers agree that no major breakthrough is expected to happen in the foreseeable future, stressing that the politicians are now focused on holding the presidential election before May 25.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 29, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

The parliamentary joint committee failed Friday to agree on how to finance the controversial salary scale increase as the Union Coordination Committee threatened to escalate the situation if its demands were not met.

However, Future MP Ghazi Youssef dismissed Kanaan's plan to finance the new salary scale as unrealistic and called on his colleagues to find a more realistic proposal that would not add strains to the government's budget.

The head of the Union Coordination Committee, Hanna Gharib, threatened to take steps to force Parliament to pass the salary scale.

One MP told The Daily Star that most of the proposals to fund the salary scale were unrealistic.


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