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Beirut school goes back on decision to fire union leader
UCC head Hanna Gharib speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Wednesday, March 20, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)
UCC head Hanna Gharib speaks during a press conference in Beirut, Wednesday, March 20, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)
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BEIRUT: A private school reversed its decision Monday to dismiss the head of a prominent labor union who led the monthlong teachers’ strike last month.

“The school telephoned me today and said that I can teach again as of Wednesday,” said Hanna Gharib, who is the head of the Union Coordination Committee.

“The issue is resolved,” the chemistry teacher told The Daily Star.

A local media outlet reported over the weekend that Gharib said the school had fired him after he went on strike for over 15 days.

Michel Bitar, the principal of Mar Elias Batina Private School in Beirut, denied there was ever any intention to sack Gharib from the school.

“Hanna Gharib telephoned me on March 26 shortly after the strike was suspended. I told him that we got a teacher to replace him while he was on strike,” Bitar said, denying that he told Gharib he was going to fire him.

“We are a school and the students needed someone to teach them [when Gharib was absent].”

The UCC, a coalition of teachers and public sector employees, went on an open-ended strike Feb.19 to pressure the government to refer a public sector pay hike to the Parliament.

After taking part in the strike for the first few days, teachers at private schools resumed their classes in early February, while those from public schools carried on with the strike.

Bitar said that when private school teachers suspended their strike in early March, Gharib, who also teaches at a public school, remained at the picket lines. He denied that the school had an intention to punish Gharib:

“Mr. Gharib has been teaching at our school for 15 years. We are not in the position to punish him. On the contrary, I telephoned him [when the government referred the salary raise to Parliament] and congratulated him for helping us get our rights.”

Bitar said that the school paid Gharib his salary for the month of February, adding that he would discuss his March salary when he comes in Wednesday.

Sources familiar with the issue told The Daily Star that the school’s move was aimed at intimidating teachers and oppressing union freedoms.

Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Association of Private School Teachers, described the school’s actions as a form of “misconduct.”

“I spoke to the school’s principal and he told me that they did not plan to sack him. I can’t tell if they simply didn’t explain things properly to Gharib or that he didn’t get what they told him he would.”

The Lebanese Forces Department of Workers and Employees condemned the school’s initial decision to sack Gharib, and said the move targeted the entire labor movement. The department said Gharib’s absence from the school was legitimate because he was on strike.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 02, 2013, on page 1.
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