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Public offices and schools close in wage strike

File - Gharib speaks at the protest in Riad al-Solh Square in Beirut.

BEIRUT: Government offices and public schools in Lebanon closed Thursday, on the first day of a weeklong strike in protest against Parliament’s plan to reduce a wage hike for civil servants by $700 million.

But some government offices opened their doors despite the Union Coordination Committee’s call for a strike, and private schools held class as usual.

In a move seen as an escalation of the standoff over the salary scale, the UCC Thursday called for boycotting official exams and holding a “day of rage” next week if Parliament fails to meet its demands.

“There won’t be official exams this year if the lawmakers remain uncommitted to our demands and if they pass the amended draft bill,” a UCC representative said during a news conference at the Education Ministry.

The head of the UCC, Hanna Gharib, called for the strike Wednesday after the parliamentary committee tasked with studying the salary scale draft law reduced the total funding from LL2.8 trillion to LL1.8 trillion.

The committee endorsed a number of proposals such as raising the Value Added Tax from 10 percent to 11 percent, increasing customs by 1 percent and increasing taxes on bank profits from 15 to 17 percent.

Nehme Mahfouz, the head of the private school teachers association, said private schools would join the strike next week.

Speaker Nabih Berri called Parliament to convene on May 14 to review the parliamentary committee’s recommendation.

Adnan Burji, head of the basic education association, said teachers had been complaining for three years about their low wages and demanding that the Lebanese government respect their rights.

“They have only succeeded in getting a 10 percent hike on their wages, which is insufficient,” he said.

Burji added that Lebanese officials had been looking for ways to raise money for the salary scale while ignoring the fact that treasury revenues were actually capable of covering this increase. If not for the LL6,500 billion transferred to Lebanese banks yearly under the name of interest costs on public debt and the LL3,000 billion transferred to support the corrupt businessmen of Electricite du Liban, he said, the government could fully fund the hike.

“The proof that this money was squandered is in the fact that officials have spent over $20 billion on the power sector, and yet Lebanese do not have electricity,” he said.

Teachers in Iqlim al-Kharroub went to work but suspended their lessons, and students were not allowed in, the NNA said.

The Serail in Nabatieh and most municipalities closed their doors, as well as public high schools, technical schools and the Lebanese University.

In Aley, government workers went to work but refused to process any papers for citizens and said they were committed to continue the strike until the middle of next week, when Parliament is scheduled to discuss the wage hike again.

Separately, Lebanon’s National Social Security Fund employees’ association also called for a strike on May 14 and 15 to protest against the administration’s failure to meet workers’ demands.

It urged all employees to commit to the strike.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 09, 2014, on page 5.

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Summary

Government offices and public schools in Lebanon closed Thursday, on the first day of a weeklong strike in protest against Parliament's plan to reduce a wage hike for civil servants by $700 million.

The head of the UCC, Hanna Gharib, called for the strike Wednesday after the parliamentary committee tasked with studying the salary scale draft law reduced the total funding from LL2.8 trillion to LL1.8 trillion.

Nehme Mahfouz, the head of the private school teachers association, said private schools would join the strike next week.

It urged all employees to commit to the strike.


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