MPs aim for wage hike deal Wednesday

BEIRUT: Parliament will hold a marathon session Wednesday to hammer out a compromise formula for the controversial salary scale, a source involved in the talks told The Daily Star Monday.

“We expect a marathon session Wednesday and meetings on the sidelines between different parliamentary blocs until an acceptable solution is reached concerning the demands of the civil servants and public school teachers,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

Speaker Nabih Berri has called for a session Wednesday to vote on the recommendations submitted by the parliamentary committee on the best ways to finance the salary scale.

The committee has suggested reducing the financing of the wage increase from $1.9 billion to $1.2 billon, a proposal which infuriated civil servants and public school teachers, who called for a mass rally Wednesday near the Parliament to press their demands.

“We will try to make amendments to the committee’s recommendations and also adjust the demands of the UCC [Union Coordination Committee]. All sides are waiting for the white smoke to emerge from the Parliament building Wednesday,” the source said.

The source blamed Free Patriotic Movement MP Ibrahim Kanaan for the current “debacle”

“The UCC was demanding LL1.666 trillion of funding for the salary scale but Kanaan raised the ceiling to LL2.8 trillion. This act of generosity was not well calculated,” the source said.

The source stressed that MPs were working on three objectives:

“First we want to make sure that the salary increase would not cause inflation to rise. Second, we want to ensure that the wage increase would not widen the budget deficit, and third we want to guarantee that any new tax would not add a serious burden on the citizens.”

But the source remained vague about what taxes would be adopted to finance the wage increase.

“We still have not decided on the types of taxes to finance the wage increase. All options are open and I do not rule out anything at the moment,” the source said.

The source believes that public school teachers and civil servants will eventually accept the amended salary scale.

Earlier in the day, Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan, a member of the parliamentary committee studying the salary scale bill, also said lawmakers would aim to pass the long-awaited public sector wage hike this week.

“We are heading to Parliament Wednesday to approve the salary scale while we preserve the [fiscal] balance,” Adwan told reporters after meeting with Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil.

Adwan also said unions should recognize that any hike in wages must be coupled with income-generation measures in order to maintain balance in the treasury, otherwise “beneficiaries of the wage hike will be affected.”

He also criticized the fact that public sector wages had taken so long to review, saying: “The salaries should not be discussed every 12 years. Rather we should meet annually to assess the economic situation and the public debt and re-evaluate the wages accordingly.”

Adwan’s comments came hours after the head of the UCC called for massive turnout at a rally to be held Wednesday to protest Parliament’s plan to cut funding for a public sector wage hike.

“I call on students, particularly those in Grades 9 and 12, as well as their parents and teachers to participate in the ‘day of rage’ rally at 11 a.m. Wednesday outside the Banks’ Association,” Hanna Gharib told hundreds of protesters at a sit-in outside the Social Affairs Ministry.

“Let’s be united Wednesday to throw the ball in their court and let them shoulder the responsibility,” he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 13, 2014, on page 5.




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