BEIRUT: Education Minister Elias Bou Saab remained adamant on holding official school exams, dismissing calls to postpone the tests from Speaker Nabih Berri as well as civil servants, who threatened an open-ended strike after a Parliament session on wage hike failed to achieve quorum.
Bou Saab held a lengthy meeting with the teachers later in the day to reach a compromise on the matter, but to no avail.
"The exams will be held on Thursday," Bou Saab told a news conference from Parliament. "Students are suffering the most. I am not willing to postpone the exams, not even 15 minutes."
Parliament again Tuesday failed to meet to vote on the controversial wage hike bill that has been a key demand by the Union Coordination Committee for holding the exams.
Berri postponed the session to June 19 over lack of quorum. Only 54 MPs showed up while the required quorum is 65.
He urged Education Minister Elias Bou Saab to postpone the exams for Grade 9 and Grade 12 students.
“Exams can’t be held in this climate,” Berri told Bou Saab.
Bou Saab has already postponed Brevet exams from June 7 to June 12 and Baccalaureate exams from June 12 to June 16 and June 22 to June 27.
"We are the ones who announce exam dates. [Exam] Certificates in exchange for the salary scale," Hanna Gharib, the head of the Union Coordination Committee, warned during a sit-in at the Education Ministry in the Beirut neighborhood of UNESCO.
“Security forces cannot do anything to us. They can hide if they do anything bad to the teachers,” said Hasan Ismail, the president of the Federal International Education Syndicate.
Before the failed legislative session, lawmakers held a flurry of meetings to resolve the salary increase deadlock, as the UCC stepped up pressure by taking its protest into the Education Ministry, days before official exams are due.
Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private Schools Teachers Association, said protesters would not leave the Education Ministry until Bou Saab made a decision.
"It's not acceptable after three years of mulling the salary scale to tell us more time is needed to study the bill," Mahfoud said from the Education Ministry. "Education is not business. We hope we can sit down with the education minister and find a way to earn our rights and do the exams at the same time."
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil slammed the lawmakers who boycotted Tuesday's session.
"It is obvious that the boycott does not only target the wage hike, but is aimed at disrupting the Parliament," Khalil said. “We have proposed a number of solutions that, if approved, would not destabilize the economy."
MP Ibrahim Kanaan, from Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, said the problem of the salary scale had nothing to do with figures.
“The salary scale had undergone extensive studies by the Cabinet and the Budget and Finance Committee and had gained the approval of 54 MPs,” said Kanaan, who heads Parliament's Budget and Finance Committee. "The problem is not in numbers, but in options."
Soon after the UCC sit-in kicked off at 9 a.m., protesters moved inside the Education Ministry headquarters, 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.
The two-day strike by the UCC has disrupted the operations of ministries, public departments and institutions as well as municipalities across Lebanon. Public schools throughout the country were also closed by the strike.