BEIRUT: A member of the League of Public Administration Employees has gone on a hunger strike until the public sector wage hike bill is approved as lawmakers scramble to reach an agreement on the disputed draft law.
In a statement, the league said a member of the committee, Ali Berro, “has gone on a hunger strike and a protest in Riad Solh Square until a new, fair and just salary scale is approved.”
Other escalatory measures will be announced soon, said the league, which has been rallying in support of a new wage hike along with the Union Coordination Committee, a group representing teachers and civil servants.
The move came hours after Parliament botched another session to debate the controversial salary raise with Speaker Nabih Berri failing to set a date for the next attempt but pledging to convene the assembly as soon as an agreement was reached.
"Parliament will remain in open-ended session till consensus is reached over the salary scale to pave the way for discussions," Berri said in a brief statement issued 45 minutes after the session failed to convene for lack of quorum.
Public servants and school teachers maintained their pressure on lawmakers ahead of the session, warning that the fate of correcting the official exams was tied to the salary scale being passed.
“The salary scale is a red line. It must be solved quickly,” Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private School Teachers Association, said from Parliament.
He had warned that unless a legislative session scheduled for Thursday convened to pass the bill, the civil servants and teachers would resume their strike at state institutions and hold to the boycott of correcting the official exams.
State institutions quickly abided by the call to strike, with public departments across Lebanon opting to continue the work stoppage.
At Beirut's airport, employees also observed a two-hour strike to press lawmakers into endorsing the salary raise draft law. Eight incoming flights and nine outgoing were affected by the strike.
Mahfoud also warned against plunging the salary raise issue into the country’s political power struggle.
“No one can push the UCC into a political conflict,” he said.
A flurry of meetings took place in Parliament prior to the scheduled legislative session in a bid to sort out the crisis.
Berri met Khalil as well as Education Minister Elias Bou Saad, Transport Minister Ghazi Zeaiter and MP Ibrahim Kanaan from Michel Aoun’s parliamentary bloc.
Following the meeting at his office in Parliament, Berri held one-on-one talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
Meanwhile, Future MP Bahia Hariri – the only Future MP that supports giving teachers six degrees on every rank – urged reporters to be patient as she walked out of Parliament after a brief presence.
“Don’t lose hope,” she said.
The UCC had earlier Thursday handed a memo on salary raise demands to Parliament, shortly before the session's scheduled start time.
UCC head Hanna Gharib – accompanied by Mahfoud and Mahmoud Haidar, head of the Association of State Employees – arrived at Parliament about an hour before the session was set to begin at 10:30.
Gharib handed the memorandum, which reiterates the demands for a wage raise for public employees, to Parliament’s Secretary-General Adnan Daher.
A meeting was held at Daher's office between Gharib, Mahfoud and Haidar in addition to Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil.
At a joint news conference later Thursday, Mahfoud, Gharib and Haidar issued similar warnings to lawmakers, blaming them for the fate of Grade 9 and Grade 12 students.
They all agreed that the salary scale could be funded by seaside and real estate taxes.