BEIRUT: Professors from the Lebanese University Friday staged protests in Beirut and Tripoli to oppose proposed cuts to the university’s budget and to demand the implementation of the 2017 Salary Scale Law.
According to local news channel MTV, teachers were protesting budget cuts as well as demanding the implementation of the law, which stipulated an increase in the salaries of all public sector workers, but has not yet been fully rolled out.
One professor at the protest in Beirut's Riad al-Solh Square was holding a sign reading, "the university pays the price for your corruption."
LU students also joined in solidarity with their teachers, opposing budget cuts as well as demanding “the return of democracy to the university, far from politics and party ties,” MTV said.
Protesters also gathered outside the Tripoli Serail, protesting “cuts to the budget of LU and a crackdown on the professors’ earning,” the state-run National News Agency reported.
In a speech to those gathered at the serail, head of the LU professors' association Youssef Daher said that teachers were also calling for a reform of pension requirements.
According to Lebanese law, teachers who work for more than 40 years are eligible to receive a lifetime pension and an end-of-service lump-sum compensation, while those who work for 20 to 40 years must choose between taking the end-of-service lump sum and receiving a lifetime pension. Because qualifying as a professor takes many years of training, many LU staff members do not reach the 40 years of service by the time they retire at 64.
Daher proposed that the 40-year threshold be lowered by five years.
University staff have staged multiple walkouts in tandem with Cabinet talks over the past few weeks on the draft 2019 state budget, which includes austerity measures that aim at reducing the public deficit, which was estimated to have stood at 11 percent of the GDP in 2018.
A representative of the professors previously suggested that strikes and other protest action would continue until articles relating to their salaries, pensions and benefits were scrapped from the budget.
According to a leaked copy of the initial budget draft obtained by The Daily Star, it proposes that state employees’ benefits for any given year not exceed their salary.
Education Minister Akram Chehayeb issued a statement Friday saying that "rumors" around cuts to LU’s budget were "absolutely untrue," according to local media reports.
Contracted professors at the university also joined the protest in Beirut, demanding that they be paid what is owed to them and that they become full-time employees. One such teacher told local news channel Al Jadeed that a ban on public sector hiring, introduced in 2017 as part of the salary scale, had prevented teachers who had been on short-term contracts for many years being offered full-time, and therefore more stable, positions.
LU teaching staff is employed on two types of contracts: full-time or hourly.
After two years of working on an hourly contract, professors’ names are submitted to the education minister for approval to be upgraded to a full-time contract.
Cheyaheb met with a delegation of contracted professors Friday and told them that he would work with the university's president to discuss the possibility of upgrading contracts on a yearly basis as one of "his primary concerns."