BEIRUT: Lebanon's Cabinet approved Thursday the draft law concerning a new salary scale for the public sector without amendments, ending a months-long debate over the issue.
"The salary scare was approved in its proposed form retroactively, starting from February 1, 2012," Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters when he stepped out for a break.
Following the end of the Cabinet session, which lasted almost seven hours, acting Information Minister Wael Abu Faour said ministers also approved the means to secure funding for the raise. He explained that the funds would come via fines on coastal properties, interest rates on deposits, a tax on real estate renovation and fees in exchange for construction permits, in addition to other sources.
However, ministers still need to determine a mechanism to levy the taxes, fines and fees.
Ministers embarked Thursday on an umpteenth round of discussion of the salary scale, as civil servants launched a one-day strike across the country, warning the government against failing to approve the raise.
The start of the session at the presidential palace was postponed for an hour, granting ministers more time to consult one another and reach an agreement on the draft law.
President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati met privately before the arrival of the ministers for the Cabinet session, which had originally been scheduled for 10 a.m.
The Cabinet failed Wednesday to approve the proposal made by Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi allowing teachers at public and private schools and state employees to benefit from a salary raise the government gave the private sector in January.
Ministers disagreed on the percentage of the increase, the means to finance it, and payment methods. The increase was initially agreed to by a ministerial committee following consultations with teachers and public sector employees.
In response to the call by the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, civil servants launched a one-day strike Thursday. They demonstrated in front of several ministries, including the Education Ministry in Beirut, the Zahle Serail in east Lebanon and several southern cities, in protest at the delay in passing the raise.
Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC, said public sector employees reject any amendments to the figures they have been promised as well as the proposal to pay the raise via installments.
"Whoever thinks that they can overrule the agreements is delusional and mistaken because the union is stronger than you think," Gharib said as he stood with tens of teachers outside the Education Ministry.
He also warned of further escalatory action if the salary scale was not approved Thursday.
Prior to the Cabinet session at Baabda Palace, Minister Abu Faour said that the Progressive Socialist Party of which he is a member favors decreasing the proposed raise by 15 percent.
"Talks will center on four options: the first is to pay via installments; the second is paying the raise in three parts; the third is what President Michel Sleiman proposed, which is reducing the raise by 15 percent; and the fourth is to wait until the [funds] are secured,” Abu Faour told reporters.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mohammad Safadi insisted on the need to pay the raise via installments.
During Wednesday’s session, Safadi and Economy Minister Nicholas Nahhas, who is close to Mikati, opposed immediate actuation of the salary increase, saying there would be grave repercussions on the economy. The 60 percent increase in salaries will cost the government more than $1 billion a year.
Such objections angered the Amal Movement and Hezbollah. Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil (Amal) said it was unacceptable to renege on the agreement with the ministerial committee, which represented all Cabinet parties. Supporting Khalil was Minister of State for Administrative Development Mohammad Fneish (Hezbollah).