BEIRUT: Hundreds of public school students, turned away from classes due to a 22-day-old strike, joined civil servants at a large protest in Beirut Tuesday and urged the Cabinet to refer a delayed wage hike to Parliament.
“No learning before referring the salary scale [to Parliament for approval],” Grade 12 student Khaled al-Kurdi said outside the Education Ministry, in a speech addressed to the government.
“The salary scale is being studied and studied and studied while the students of Lebanon are not studying,” the representative of public high school students said.
Kurdi vowed to keep up the student action alongside the open-ended strike launched by the Union Coordination Committee on Feb. 19 until the demands of civil servants are met.
A fervent Kurdi was met with a huge applause from the crowd when he warned the Lebanese government that “we will fight peacefully, with our voices and pens.”
His speech echoed the near-daily rallies and sit-ins organized by the UCC, a coalition of civil servants and public school teachers unions, to demand the government finalize a wage hike.
Parents, too, raised their voices demanding teachers should be given their rights.
“Put an end to the disruption of the school year,” shouted Ayman Abdel-Sater, speaking on behalf of parents.
“Our children have been out of their classes for a third week in a row now ... the Cabinet has acknowledged the teachers’ righteous demands but [ministers] are still procrastinating,” said the father.
“Your children are gaining while ours are losing the school year,” said Abdel-Sater, addressing ministers.
“How much longer will you keep turning a deaf ear ... Wake up so that our children don’t remain hostage to the streets,” he said.
UCC head Hanna Gharib accused the Economic Committees, which oppose the referral of the wage scale to Parliament, of preventing the government from enforcing fines on violators of seaside property.
“You lost because you failed to separate between us [civil servants and public school teachers] and students and parents,” Gharib said, addressing the government.
The UCC protest coincided with a Cabinet meeting at the Grand Serail in Beirut.
Speaking after the government meeting concluded, Information Minister Walid Daouk said the wage scale issue had not been brought up by ministers.
During the rally outside the government ministry, Gharib vowed the unions would carry on with their strike action until the salary scale has been approved.
He said protesters would target Baabda’s serail Wednesday, while on Thursday and Friday, the UCC would target Beirut port and the capital’s airport, which he described as “hubs of corruption.”
He reiterated that official exams for Grade 9 and 12 students would be postponed in accordance with the number of lost academic days due to the strike action.
On Monday Gharib said that preparations were under way for a major rally on March 21 to coincide with a Cabinet meeting, promised by President Michel Sleiman as a deadline for the government to finalize plans to fund the wage hikes.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati argues that more time is needed to study means of financing the salary scale as economic growth stagnated.
The private sector also has voiced deep reservations on plans to raise the salaries of the public sector, warning that this step could create a heavier burden on the economy.
Mikati has said that he will not bow to pressure from the unions to refer to pay hike to Parliament while the strike continues.