BEIRUT: Civil servants returned to the streets Tuesday as their fight for a wage hike was delivered a fresh blow with many Christian MPs boycotting Parliament over the presidential stalemate.
Speaker Nabih Berri adjourned Tuesday's scheduled Parliament session over the modified salary scale until June 10.
The civil servants' protest was scheduled to take place in parallel with a Parliament session over the modified salary scale. The session, however, did not convene due to a lack of quorum.
Christian lawmakers are boycotting Parliament over the failure to elect a successor to Michel Sleiman, who left office Sunday, arguing that Parliament cannot legislate in light of a presidential void.
The sources said that March 14 MPs, mainly the Future bloc, also boycotted the session in solidarity with the Christian lawmakers.
The sources added that the boycotting lawmakers also argued that a consensus on the salary scale should be reached before Parliament convened. If there were a prior agreement, the salary scale could be endorsed in one hour, they said.
A parliamentary committee formed to study the controversial salary scale issue earlier this month reduced the total funding from LL2.8 trillion ($1.9 billion) to LL1.8 trillion.
The March 8 and March 14 camps are divided on a value added tax increase proposed by the committee. It proposed raising the VAT to 11 percent and customs by 1 percent, saying that the increases should generate revenues of LL623 billion annually.
Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan, speaking from Parliament, said that the March 14 coalition would always support the people’s demands but boycotted the session due to presidential void.
“The March 14 will always stand by the social demands of people, and the salary scale is an essential priority required to preserve social stability,” he said.
“We vow to endorse the salary scale in a way that balances between the social necessities and protects the national economy at the same time,” the lawmaker, a member of the committee studying the salary scale, said.
“As for the session, we consider that legislation is improper at such a time and this is why we did not attend it,” Adwan said.
Future MP Ghazi Youssef said that “the government should play a constructive role in endorsing the salary scale within the considerations Adwan spoke about.”
“We should agree on a salary scale that grants civil servants their social rights but does not place the economy at risk,” he said.
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said that “things need more discussion and that there is no need for the parliamentary committee to discuss the salary scale anymore because it is now in the hand of Parliament’s General Assembly.”
MP Ibrahim Kanaan, from the Free Patriotic Movement, said that “the salary scale should be endorsed while taking into consideration the capacities of the state.”
“We support ending corruption in the state, and we do not want to impose more taxes on people,” he said. “Maybe the delay in endorsing the salary scale is in the benefit of the public interest."
Hanna Gharib, the head of the Union Coordination Committee, slammed lawmakers for their continued failure to endorse the salary increase and said they have until June 7 to endorse the demands of the government employees.
“What happened today is a boycott to the poverty and pain of people. The interests of civil servants cannot be boycotted; the government employees are the state,” Gharib said outside Parliament.
He accused Parliament of trying to corner and obstruct the employees but vowed to stand firm on the civil servants’ demands.
“They said they would not meet unless they agree on the numbers and the means to fund the salary scale,” he said. “This is only an alibi.”
“You should get it very well,” he said, addressing lawmakers. “We want our full rights and the 121 percent increase.”
“We haven’t been taking down the streets for three years to play; we will not back off.”
The rally was accompanied by a strike of public sector employees as well as public school teachers, leaving most government offices nonoperational.
Civil servants have been holding protests off and on for nearly three years, demanding a 121 percent salary increase. The protests are being organized by the UCC.
The private sector, represented by the Economic Committees, has rallied against the adoption of the salary scale, warning that it will burden an already struggling economy.