BEIRUT: Teachers are holding an open-ended strike inside Lebanon’s Education Ministry in UNESCO after Parliament failed to reach an agreement over funding a wage scale increase. The failure to fund the wage scale has now left an aura of uncertainty surrounding student’s final exams that are scheduled for this Thursday.
“This is an open protest,” said Hassan Ismail, president of the Federal International Education Syndicate. “The decision-makers will study our options in light of what the government or parliament decides.”
After 18 years without a wage scale increase, teachers are demanding a 121 percent increase. Politicians say that meeting the teacher’s demands will hamper the Lebanese economy. Leaders of the Union Coordination Committee, a collection of public sector workers and public and private school teachers, counter by accusing the political class of misusing Lebanon’s finances.
The UCC has held massive protests in recent months where thousands of people took to the streets. Tuesday’s protest was smaller with only a few hundred in attendance, mostly teachers with a few students also present.
“I want to support teachers because this is their right,” said Ahmad Ibrahim, 18. “When our country calls us, we have a duty to serve every citizen and the country.”
He added that the protesters were prepared to sleep at the ministry if necessary.
Ibrahim has finished his school year but said his brother was preparing to sit for exams Thursday.
“He’s worried about whether or not the exams are happening,” he said. “All students are worried.”
Inside the ministry, UCC leader Hanna Gharib defiantly addressed a cheering crowd, "We are the ones who announce exam dates. [Exam] Certificates in exchange for the salary scale."
On the lawn outside the ministry building, security forces relaxed under trees in the shade and some teachers mulled around engaging in conversation.
One of those was Abdelkarim Sherry, 65, who retired a year ago but turned out to support the teachers. He said that the protests that have picked up over the last three years had not yet pushed the political class into action. “From the Mikati government to today, the state and the education minister don’t want to give us our rights.”