BEIRUT: Parliament agreed Tuesday to form a committee to restudy the controversial public sector wage hike bill as civil servants and teachers, seeing the move as regressive, are set to observe a one-day nationwide strike Wednesday.
Sixty-five lawmakers voted in favor of the a proposal originally put forward by MP Fouad Siniora to form a parliamentary committee that would include both finance and economy ministers to re-examine the salary scale draft law.
During the three-hour morning session, Siniora said the bill should be accompanied by comprehensive reform to increase productivity in the public sector.
“The Lebanese citizens, who are not employees in the public sector, are right to ask why they should pay additional taxes without being offered an increase in productivity, improvement in public sector services and real reform that would allow economic growth,” Siniora said in his review of the draft law submitted to Parliament.
His proposal was rebuffed by by both Speaker Nabih Berri and Hezbollah MP Ali Ammar but only 27 lawmakers voted against Siniora’s suggestion in the afternoon session.
“All of the blocs without exception support that teachers and civil servants are granted their rights ... but it seems that the revenue numbers [to finance the bill] need further assessment so that we can maintain the balance between expenditures and revenues,” MP Ahmad Fatfat told reporters after the Parliamentary session.
He added that the approval of the draft law, estimated to cost the treasury $1.6 billion annually, would heavily affect the economy and the private sector, which has staunchly opposed the approval of the bill.
Fatfat also said that some of the proposed taxes including those on seaside properties and real estate also needed further discussion and amendments, reassuring unions that Parliament was “serious” with regards the new salary scale.
The proposed committee will be comprised of lawmakers from the country’s various blocs along with the economy, education and finance ministers.
An hour before Parliament's decision, the Union Coordination Committee announced civil servants and teachers would go on strike in protest of Parliament’s failure to approve the long-awaited bill.
“We all know that Parliamentary committees are the graveyard to any draft law,” Hanna Gharib, UCC head, told reporters.
“In response to the recklessness and failure to pass the new salary scale ... the UCC calls on the entire public sector and private schools to observe a one-day strike,” he said
He also said that the UCC, which has been rallying for the bill for almost two years, would hold a news conference outside Parliament to discuss future steps at 2 p.m.
The bill was first drafted by former Prime Minister Najib Mikati's Cabinet and referred to a Parliamentary committee in 2012 following months of protests by civil servants. The committee and its subcommittee have been studying the bill ever since. Berri put the draft law up for a vote in Parliament Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Gharib handed in a memo including the committee’s demands about the scale to Parliament’s Secretary-General Adnan Daher.
Civil servants and teachers also rallied outside Parliament urging lawmakers to approve the salary scale without dividing it, paying it in installments or otherwise reducing it, or failing to approve the same 121 percent pay hike granted to judges and Lebanese University teachers.
“The battle [has begun] against the money whales and their leaders; the moment of truth has come,” Gharib told a crowd of protesters gathered outside Parliament. “Today, lawmakers will decide whether they will stand by our demands or against them."
Gharib said there would be “no compromise or negotiations” over workers' demands.
“We want our full rights; there is no bargaining on our right for a 121 percent increase; there would be no compromise whatsoever.”
Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private Schools Teachers Association, also criticized lawmakers who attempted to turn Parliament’s session into a closed-door meeting.
“We will hold all lawmakers accountable for what they will say today, the session has to be open,” he said.