Lebanon News

D-Day for school exams, wage hike?

Civil servants and public school teachers protest outside the Education Ministry in Beirut, Monday, June 10, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Lawmakers held flurry of meetings to resolve the salary increase deadlock, as the union steps up pressure by taking protest into the Education Ministry Tuesday, days before official exams are scheduled.

“I allowed the UCC to hold the sit-in inside the Education Ministry,” Education Minister Elias Bou Saab told reporters from Parliament, before meeting with Speaker Nabih Berri and Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil.

Bou Saab said there was a chance of a breakthrough in the salary scale.

Half an hour after the time appointed for a legislative session to vote for the pay raise, a quorum was still not present.

March 14 will reportedly hold a news conference on the issue shortly.

The UCC, the umbrella group for civil servants and public and private school teachers, held a sit-in outside the Education Ministry in Beirut ahead of a legislative session set for 10:30 a.m., demanding a salary increase.

The two-day strike has disrupted the operations of ministries, public departments and institutions as well as municipalities across Lebanon. Public schools throughout the country were also closed as part of the two-day strike called by the Union Coordination Committee.

Soon after the sit-in kicked off at 9 a.m., protesters moved into the Education Ministry headquarters in Beirut's UNESCO neighborhood, in a bid to block access for teachers hoping to sign contracts to monitor and correct official exams.

Bou Saab has announced a backup plan for holding official exams whereby he would hire contract teachers to replace the full-time staff. But the UCC pledged not to allow the tests to be conducted unless the wage hike was endorsed first.

Before heading to Parliament, Bou Saab met in Clemenceau with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, who has repeatedly warned of the negative effects of the salary raise.

“We won’t vote for the salary scale, and those who want to do otherwise will have to take full responsibility for the disastrous consequences of such an adventure," Jumblatt said.

Rival politicians struggled Monday to clinch a deal over the wage hike bill, in a last-ditch attempt to avert a looming showdown over official exams between the UCC and Education Minister Elias Bou Saab ahead of the crucial parliamentary session.

Many politicians, including former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, have warned that passing the salary scale would have catastrophic consequences.

Although a quorum for the Tuesday’s session appeared to be secured, it remained unclear whether lawmakers would be able to pass the bill, as parliamentary blocs disagreed over proposed taxes to fund the increases.

“A quorum for Tuesday’s session is guaranteed, but the passing of the wage hike bill is not,” a source in the parliamentary Future Movement bloc told The Daily Star. The source said the Future bloc along with its Christian March 14 allies, the Kataeb Party and the Lebanese Forces, would not attend the session, underlining their rejection of the wage hike bill.

Political sources ruled out the passing of the draft law unless there were a change in Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil’s proposal to balance revenues and the cost of the salary increases, estimated at $1.6 billion annually.





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