BEIRUT: Hundreds of teachers and public servants protested outside government headquarters in Beirut Wednesday, threatening to further escalate their actions unless the Cabinet implements a long-awaited pay raise.
Most private and public schools shut down across Lebanon in response to the Union Coordination Committee’s call for a daylong strike Wednesday.
The UCC is a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees.
“There will be more and more escalatory measures all the way to an open-ended sit-in outside the Grand Serail if the government fails to refer the salary scale to Parliament,” Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private Schools Teachers Association, told reporters during the rally in Downtown Beirut.
Demonstrators – estimated to number between 1,500 and 2,000 – marched for around an hour from the Education Ministry in the UNESCO neighborhood to the Grand Serail in Downtown Beirut.
“We don’t want delay in the [pay] scale,” chanted the protesters. “We don’t want a [pay] scale for [Cabinet] ministers.”
The rally’s turnout was expected to be higher, given the calls sent out by the UCC.
“We call on teachers, public employees, retired and contractual public workers as well as their families and other associations to heavily participate in the demonstration,” a UCC statement urged Tuesday.
The UCC said the “peaceful” protest aims to urge the government to send the draft law to raise salaries for public sector employees to Parliament.
Responding to the UCC Wednesday, Labor Minister Salim Jreissati said “escalation is futile.”
“In the end we are going to [secure] funds for the pay scale,” he told a news conference.
Jreissati said the government is “thoroughly and hastily looking into the revenues needed” to secure the salary raise.
The Cabinet approved a substantial raise for civil servants and public school teachers, but the decision still requires approval from Parliament.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s government has shown reluctance to send the bill to Parliament until it reaches an agreement to secure funds to finance the mass salary increases.
Most ministers have resisted imposing tax hikes to fund the salary scale amid economic recession, realizing such a measure could spark protests in the country.