BEIRUT: Civil servants and teachers held a general strike Wednesday in protest of Parliament’s delay in passing a draft law to boost their salaries.
All public school teachers and vocational academies responded to the Union Coordination Committee’s call for a daylong strike as hundreds of protesters gathered near Parliament in Riad Solh Square around 11 a.m. coinciding with the start of a legislative session.
Education Minister Elias Bou Saad joined the protesters in a sign of solidarity.
Holding banners that read “the salary scale is our right,” protesters, including Civil Defense personnel and Tele Liban employees, urged politicians and lawmakers to approve the pay hike.
“I want to ask forgiveness from the head of the Civil Defense because I did not ask permission to take the streets,” one emergency worker said in an emotional speech.
“But I left the house because I feel oppressed,” the man, wearing his navy blue uniform, said as he saluted Civil Defense volunteers.
Only 50 percent of private school teachers, however, committed to the action called for by the UCC, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees.
They have threatened to step up their actions if their demands are not met with the UCC warning teachers would boycott state examinations.
Parliament, which began three-day meetings Tuesday to discuss a number of bills, is not scheduled to debate the salary increase in light of the joint committees failure to decide on a means to finance the wage hike, estimated to cost the Treasury at least $1.2 billion.
Speaker Nabih Berri has called on the joint committees to convene Friday and finalize the draft law, a move hailed by the UCC.
Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private Schools Teachers Association, said unions would meet that same day to decide further escalatory steps if Parliament failed to approve the wage scale.
Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh called for an installment plan to pay the wage hikes in a bid to ease pressure on the Treasury’s finances and avoid inflation.
“I’m not against the pay raise in principle, but approval should be accompanied by reforms,” Salameh told the local daily Al-Joumhouria in remarks published Wednesday.
“I believe that the most appropriate solution at the moment would be an installment [plan],” he added.
Salameh said taxes to finance the salary scale constitute 4 percent of GDP.
The UCC has rejected the installment plan.
Former Prime Minister Najib Mikati's government referred the law to Parliament last year following a series of mass strikes and protests that crippled the public sector.