BEIRUT: A member of the League of Public Administration Employees has gone on 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, the league said, which has been rallying for a 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 until 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 schoolteachers 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 their boycott of correcting the official exams.
State institutions quickly abided by the call to strike.
At Beirut’s airport, employees also observed a two-hour strike to press lawmakers into endorsing the salary increase draft law. Eight incoming flights and nine outgoing were affected by the strike.
Mahfoud also warned against involving the salary issue in the country’s political power struggle. “No one can push the UCC into a political conflict.”
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 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.
“Don’t lose hope,” she said, as she walked out of Parliament.
The UCC had earlier Thursday handed Parliament a memo on salary raise demands, shortly before the session’s scheduled starting time.
UCC head Hanna Gharib – along with Mahfoud and Mahmoud Haidar, head of the Association of State Employees – arrived at Parliament an hour early. Gharib gave the document to Parliament 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.
They agreed the raise could be funded by seaside and real estate taxes.