BEIRUT: Thousands began an open-ended strike across Lebanon Tuesday in a row over the new public sector wage scale as the Union Coordination Committee (UCC) threatened to take further action.
“Stop all administrative operations, stop all classes and strike,” UCC head Hanna Gharib told public workers and teachers outside the Grand Serail in Beirut.
While public schools across the country closed their doors, many private schools ignored the call to strike by the UCC, which groups teachers and public civil servants.
The UCC announced an open-ended strike starting Tuesday after the Cabinet failed to convene Monday to approve the long-awaited pay hike and send it to Parliament for endorsement.
The UCC chief warned of escalatory actions.
“Tomorrow will be a day of sit-ins outside the Finance Ministry in Beirut and the serails of Tripoli, Mount Lebanon, Beiteddine, Baabda, Jounieh, Zahleh, Baalbek, Sidon and Nabatieh at 10 a.m.,” Gharib said.
He said the government would bear the responsibility for the consequences of the strike.
For his part, Nehmeh Mahfoud, the head of the Association of Private Schools Teachers, assured teachers that the law was on their side.
“When Cabinet meets and refers the pay scale to Parliament we will end the sit-in,” Mahfoud told the crowd outside the government headquarters.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati said Monday his Cabinet was committed to finalizing the draft law for the public sector wage hike but said more study was needed on how to finance it.
Earlier Tuesday, Gharib described the government’s policy as “silly” and warned that the situation for public sector workers had reached an unacceptable level.
“We are going to explode from so much pressure,” Gharib told the Kataeb-run Voice of Lebanon station.
“No sane person in the Lebanese state would approve a 100 percent pay raise for some sectors and leave other sectors like the military, security forces, teachers and employees,” he complained.
Gharib also slammed Father Butros Azar, the head of the Catholic Education Secretariat, for ignoring the UCC call to strike.
Azar, he said, “should have demanded that the Cabinet refer the salary scale [to Parliament] instead of taking from parents 10 times higher school fees without paying the high cost of living for teachers.”
A statement by the UCC Monday said it “promises all repressed and marginalized Lebanese that it will continue to care about their rights and will not suspend its strike until the raise is referred to Parliament.”