BEIRUT: Differences among lawmakers remained an obstacle to the approval of the public sector wage hike Friday, as teachers vowed to uphold their boycott of grading official exams with no end in sight for the yearslong ordeal.
"It is obvious there are still differences in the salary scale discussion,” Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khali told reporters after his meeting with a delegation from the Union Coordination Committee.
“There is a need to pass the salary scale as soon as possible, and we should continue contacts with our partners.”
Lawmakers are still at loggerheads over means to finance the long-awaited wage hike, estimated to cost the treasury some $1.2 billion annually.
Khalil's talk of unresolved differences comes a day after he held talks with former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Health Minister Wael Abu Faour from the Progressive Socialist Party and Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan in a bid to hammer out a deal to pave the way for Parliament to endorse the pay hike.
While the Future Movement has proposed raising the VAT from 10 to 11 percent, Speaker Nabih Berri has opposed such a demand. Berri has said he is willing to accept a 1 percent rise in VAT in return for paying the wages in a single installment or to keep the VAT as is and pay the raise in installments with reductions in the total percentage demanded by the UCC.
“If we approve the salary scale, we are in support of reducing it by 10 percent in order to reduce the huge deficit that will incur as a result of the new wage hike,” Khalil, from Berri’s parliamentary bloc, said.
He said the speaker was ready to convene a legislative session to pass the wage hike “within hours” and that the draft law would be the first item of any agenda for an upcoming session.
“It is obvious that the issue of the salary scale is no longer about numbers but it is about two teams: One that wants to approve the salary scale and the other that doesn’t.”
UCC head Hanna Gharib vowed that teachers would boycott correcting official exams until the wage hike was approved.
Students in Lebanon need to pass Grade 12 official exams to enroll at university and Grade 9 exams to enter high school.
Speaking to reporters immediately after Khalil, Gharib also announced that the union would hold another protest on Aug. 6.
"There are 1 million persons who live off of this salary scale. ... Discussion on the bill has gone back to zero,” he said.
The UCC has been rallying for the new wage hike for three years now, opposing an increase to the VAT and demanding the government institute reforms to combat corruption, which Gharib has said would easily finance the pay raise.