BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman called during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday for an end to the open-ended strike by the public sector as unions reiterated their demand that the government refer the draft wage scale to Parliament during a march toward Baabda Palace.
Civil servants and public school teachers in the thousands gathered at the junction leading to Baabda Palace, where they held their rally, in another day of the weeks-long, open-ended strike called by the Union Coordination Committee (UCC) over the thorny wage hike.
Sleiman, who headed the Cabinet session, urged the UCC, a coalition of teachers and public sector employees, to call off its strike for the sake of citizens.
He said the salary scale was being “carefully examined” by Prime Minister Najib Mikati, the relevant ministers, the Economic Committees and the UCC.
The president has promised that the Cabinet will refer the salary scale to Parliament during the first Cabinet session after March 21, a move that prompted private school teachers Monday to suspend their participation in the strike which was launched on Feb. 19.
“As of March 21, Cabinet will start discussing the revenues for the salary scale,” Sleiman said during the meeting Tuesday.
During the rally near the Presidential Palace, the UCC pledged to continue with the strike until its demands were met.
“Enough promises, we will not step back until you meet our demands,” said UCC Secretary-General Nazih Jerbawi.
“We demand [President Michel Suleiman] looks into our demands and take a decisive position at Cabinet sessions,” he added.
The National News Agency reported that the high turnout of protestors resulted in the blocking the Baabda-Jamhour highway, causing heavy congestion.
Head of the Public Sector Employees Association also pledged that civil servants would remain on strike until the new salary scale is passed.
A statement by the UCC called on teachers and public employees to gear up for protests on Thursday, when Teachers’ day is celebrated in Lebanon.
“[Teachers’ Day] will be about anger against officials that forgo the needs of their people,” the statement said.
Mikati argues that more time is needed to study ways of financing the wage hike.
In an interview late Monday, the prime minister vowed he would not bow down to pressure from the unions and said that the wage scale would not be referred to Parliament while the strike continued.
"We will not approve anything under pressure or under strike,” Mikati said.
"We are studying the [means] of financing [the pay raise] and the effects of the salary increase; and we will finalize the issue by March 21,” he added.