BEIRUT: Teachers union leaders say they are waiting for the outcome of Thursday’s meeting between MP Bahia Hariri and Speaker Nabih Berri to decide whether to call off a boycott of official exam grading.
Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Association of Private School Teachers, told The Daily Star that Hariri conveyed a “positive message” during her meeting with the Union Coordination Committee and Education Minister Elias Bou Saab.
Hariri reportedly reiterated the promise made by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri that the ranks and wages scale will be passed by Parliament soon.
The UCC was supposed to have a meeting with the former prime minister himself, but he was called on to travel to Saudi Arabia to discuss a $1 billion Saudi grant to the Lebanese Army.
Bahia Hariri, who also heads Parliament’s education committee, said she would be contacting the finance minister shortly in order to discuss the wage scale, according to the Voice of Lebanon radio station.
Sources from Hariri’s office also described the atmosphere of the meeting as “positive” and said Hariri was looking to pass the wage scale and free thousands of students from the burden of uncertainty.
The meeting followed a protest by the UCC near Parliament during which leaders vowed not to budge on their decision to continue the boycott until their demands are met. Public administration employees also observed a nationwide strike in an effort to maintain pressure on politicians.
During the rally, Mahfoud decried what he called the “disgraceful treatment” of teachers by security forces during a protest staged Tuesday outside the Education Ministry. According to eye witnesses, skirmishes broke out between striking teachers and those who crossed the picket line to correct exams, prompting security forces to intervene, which triggered fighting between the UCC members and the police.
“We do not accept such odious behavior against teachers whereby certain unionists were beaten up in front of the ministry,” Mahfoud told the protesters in Riad al-Solh Square, Downtown Beirut. “This is militia-style conduct by the ministry, not to mention that teachers have been threatened and warned against continuing the boycott.”
Mahfoud reiterated the UCC’s determination to continue boycotting the correction of official exams until Parliament meets to pass the adjusted ranks and salary scale.
“Only when Speaker Berri calls for a session to pass the new salary scale, and only then, will we start correcting the exams,” he said.
The salary scale issue has dragged on for several years, with progress further slowed this summer by a parliamentary boycott by Christian and March 14 MPs over the presidential void.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam warned that Lebanon would remain paralyzed, with no solution to crippling public sector strikes, until officials were willing to work together to reactivate the government’s work.
“The solution to resolving the problems of teachers and EDL workers is for the political parties to come to an agreement to facilitate the country’s affairs,” Salam said in remarks published in An-Nahar daily. “When this agreement happens, we can elect a new president and hold the parliamentary elections.”
According to Salam, such a political advancement would lead to the reactivation of the Cabinet’s full executive authority.
“But the lack of such consensus paralyzes the legislative authority and hinders the work of the executive authority,” he said. “Among the key [socio-economic] matters we are facing is the ranks and salaries scale; passing it would be a breakthrough for the country.”
Salam was optimistic, however, over the return of Saad Hariri to Lebanon. “Hariri’s return has opened a window of hope and optimism for people,” Salam said, adding that he hoped the political class would benefit from the positive atmosphere.