BEIRUT: Public sector employees and teachers marched toward Baabda Serail Wednesday in yet another protest against the government for failing to finalize the issue of their wage hike.
For 23 consecutive days, the Union Coordination Committee, which groups civil servants and teachers, has held daily protests accompanied with an open-ended strike that has crippled most government offices.
Protesters vowed that Thursday’s movement will target the Beirut port while Friday will witness a march toward the airport.
A new salary scale for the public sector was approved about seven months ago by the Cabinet but Prime Minister Najib Mikati has repeatedly said that he needs more time to look into means to finance the pay raise before he refers the draft law to Parliament for final approval.
During Wednesday’s protest outside the presidential palace, the head of the UCC Hana Gharib, who has led the mass protests since Feb.19, ridiculed Mikati’s comments that the issue of the public sector will be resolved soon.
When asked about the salary scale issue during Tuesday’s Cabinet session, Mikati reportedly said: “Consider it done on March 21.”
He was referring to the Cabinet session that is expected to be headed by President Michel Sleiman to finalize the case of thousands of civil servants and teachers of both the private and public schools.
“A million people will be eating and living off the salary scale and the head of that deaf government says it will be done on March 21 ... we ask you, prime minister, how will it be finalized?” Gharib said.
“You should go to the public and the media and say that you will refer the salary scale on March 21,” he shouted as he was surrounded by hundreds of loyal protesters.
Gharib has directed scathing attacks against the private sector represented by the Economic Committees for heavily rallying against the adoption of the new wage hike. Private employers believe that the raise will burden the national economy, already reeling under severe conditions.
On Tuesday, the UCC marched toward the Education Ministry and vowed that the final examinations for thousands of students would be delayed for as long as the government delays the referral.
The warning would put the fate of some 400,000 students in public schools on hold.
Hundreds of students and their parents protested Tuesday in solidarity with their teachers in a bid to add further pressure on the government and fend off allegations that parents reject the salary scale out of fear of an increase in tuition fees.
Gharib also described the UCC protests Wednesday as showcasing Lebanon’s national unity.
“The struggle is not only against the salary scale but also to combat sectarian strife through their cause that has represented the nation’s unity with their marches from the north, the south, the Bekaa and Beirut,” he said.