Civil servants, teachers call weeklong strike

Employees protest in front of the VAT building in Beirut, Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

BEIRUT: The Union Coordination Committee has called for a weeklong strike beginning Thursday to protest MPs’ recommendation to cut funding for the salary scale by $700 million.

“The recommendations of the parliamentary committee on the proposed wages are an insult to the teachers and civil servants,” Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC, said at a news conference Wednesday.

He added that all public schools and most government agencies would join the strike.

Gharib reiterated the UCC’s rejection of any taxes that would affect low-income families, repeating calls to tax banks and the rich, and to cut waste in public departments.

“What we are demanding is revising the wages, [something] which is 18 years overdue and has reached 121 percent up till now. The officials have drastically reduced the amount in order to deal a blow to the unity of the UCC,” he added.

Nehmet Mahfouz, the head of the private school teachers association, said private schools would observe the strike next Wednesday, rather than Thursday.

“Thursday is a normal day in the private schools but the teachers will not hesitate to join the strike in the next stages,” Mahfouz said.

Speaker Nabih Berri Wednesday called for a parliamentary session on May 14 to review the parliamentary committee’s recommendations.

The committee has agreed to reduce the total funding of the salary scale from LL2.8 trillion ($1.9 billion) to LL1.8 trillion ($1.2 billion).

It has also endorsed a number of proposals such as raising the rate of VAT from 10 percent to 11 percent, increasing customs by 1 percent and increasing taxes on bank profits from 15 percent to 17 percent.

Sources said the measures recommended by the committee should secure additional revenue of $1.1 billion, which almost covers the revised financing of the salary scale.

The committee underlined the importance of cutting waste in public departments, reducing the deficit of the state-owned Electricite du Liban and increasing the working hours of civil servants.

MP Ghazi Youssef told The Daily Star that the committee refuses to increase wages by 121 percent, describing the demand as “ridiculous and illogical.”

He also vowed that the revised salary wages would be paid in full, rather than in installments.

But observers doubt that the MPs will pass the controversial proposal on May 14 because most of the lawmakers fear grave consequences if higher wages are passed in the current economic climate.

The General Labor Confederation also backed the demands of the UCC, urging contract workers and part-time EDL staff to join the strike.

In a statement, the GLC threatened to call for an open strike if the Parliament and government procrastinate in fulfilling the demands of civil servants and teachers.

A number of VAT department employees staged a brief sit-in near their office building to express their full support for the UCC’s demands.

Waving placards and banners, they stressed that they would resort to an open strike and cripple all departments if all their demands were not met.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 08, 2014, on page 1.




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