BEIRUT: Hundreds of teachers and public sector employees went on strike again Wednesday and held a protest over the government’s failure to refer to Parliament a long-awaited salary raise.
Protesters gathered outside the Information Ministry building on Beirut's Hamra’s main road and marched to the Grand Serail in the city center in response to a call by the Union Coordination Committee.
Speaking from outside the Grand Serail, Nehme Mahfoud, who heads the private schools teachers association, slammed Prime Minister Najib Mikati accusing him of being unfair in failing to meet the teachers’ demands.
“You are to blame, Najib Mikati. You and your government,” said Mahfoud.
“You can only be fair Mr. President, governments who are unfair will eventually be brought down,” he added.
Mahfoud also threatened an open-ended strike in February if the government continued to ignore its demands.
“You have until the end of this month to refer the salary increase to Parliament, or else all teachers will take down the streets early February and won’t leave until their demands are met,” said Mahfoud.
The head of the Secondary Schools Teachers Association Hanna Gharib also expressed hope Wednesday that President Michel Sleiman would be part of the solution to the teachers’ problem.
“I hope President Sleiman will interfere to refer the wages scale to Parliament in accordance with the deal reached with Mikati and the ministerial committee earlier,” said Gharib.
Gharib also held the government responsible for the strikes because it has failed to fulfill its promises to the teachers.
“The government is responsible for every day of strike we hold,” said Gharib. “It has been promising the same thing for the past year and a half.”
Earlier Wednesday, Gharib told the Voice of Lebanon radio station that the government has failed in its obligations to provide a decent life for citizens, accusing it once again of ignoring the UCC demands.
“The policy of the government is to steer itself clear of its obligations to provide a good livelihood to citizens,” said Gharib.
The unions have held several strikes this academic year over the same issue and said they are frustrated by the government dragging its feet.
The government approved the draft law to increase salaries for public sector employees and teachers at private and public schools in September but did not refer it to Parliament.
The Cabinet has said it is trying to secure means to finance the cost of the raise before referring the proposal to Parliament.
Mikati has repeatedly said that the increase in salaries will be pending until the Cabinet secures funding for it, arguing that strikes lead nowhere and that the UCC problems can be solved through calm measures and responsible dialogue.