BEIRUT: Negotiations between the government and labor unions failed Saturday to end an open-ended strike by civil servants over their demand that a Cabinet-endorsed wage hike be referred to Parliament.
“The strike is still on and there has been no progress on the issue of the new salary scale for public sector employees,” Gharib, who heads the Union Coordination Committee, told reporters after talks with Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail in Beirut.
Mikati, during a chat with reporters after the meeting, said he had asked the unions to suspend the strike until March 21, when a Cabinet session would finalize the draft law and refer it to Parliament.
“I gave them my commitment that talks on the salary scale would continue during a March 21 Cabinet session to be headed by the president and asked them to suspend the strike until we have the results [from the discussions],” he said.
The prime minister added that he had explained to the labor unions the economic situation in the country, which he said would be further burdened by an increase in the public sector wage.
Earlier Saturday, Gharib, who headed a protest outside the Vehicle Inspection Center in Dekwaneh, said civil servants were in a struggle against what he described as “money mongers,” warning that Monday would witness a much larger protest than that of previous days.
"Our strike will be more costly and will be open-ended and at the level of the nation," Gharib shouted as hundreds clapped and cheered outside the center which closed its doors in compliance with the UCC call for strike action.
As on previous days, Gharib urged Mikati to refer the new salary scale to Parliament and implement what he had promised the UCC, a group that represents public sector employees and teachers.
A nationwide strike has crippled government offices and schools for 12 consecutive days, in a bid by the UCC to pressure the Cabinet to refer the new pay scale to Parliament.
Mikati says he will refer the draft law when the necessary funds to finance the wage hike have been secured, stressing that unplanned spending would further burden the treasury.
An unofficial ministerial meeting Thursday failed to agree on a plan to fund the new public sector salary scale, which is expected to add a combined increment to wages of at least $1.2 billion a year.
The five ministers who attended the meeting opposed taxes suggested by the finance minister.
Mikati’s proposal to fund the wage hike - which would allow real estate developers to add an additional floor in return for a state fee - has also been criticized.
As part of the strike action, public sector workers have held rallies and protests outside government buildings across the capital as well as the Central Bank.
Gharib said over the weekend that Monday's protest would be held outside the Labor Ministry.
The Bank Employees Association, which has been demanding the renewal of an expired collective labor agreement for over a year, has started coordinating with the UCC.
Head of the BEA Assad Khoury has told The Daily Star that the union will be taking escalatory steps by next week if ongoing mediation by the Labor Ministry fails to bring the Banks Association to agree on renewing the contract.
“But of course, we would not jump into a strike directly. We would start by organizing sit-ins and demonstrations, and if they do not agree on the Labor Ministry offer, we will be eventually forced to go on strike,” he said Friday.