Lebanon's President has vowed action on wage increases
President Michel Sleiman pledged over the weekend to push forward salary increases for civil servants and teachers within a three-week deadline as private school teachers agreed to resume classes in the meantime.
“The president intervened with Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and they agreed that the salary hike would be referred to Parliament during the first Cabinet session after March 21,” head of the Private School Teachers association Nehme Mahfoud told a news conference Sunday.
The resumption of classes at private schools did not mean the group was suspending its membership in the Union Coordination Committee, Mahfoud said, adding that teachers would continue to participate in UCC-led demonstrations. There are no disagreements within the UCC ranks, he added.
“Instead of shutting private schools as we did on several days last week, teachers will organize demonstrations after working hours and step up local protests across Lebanon,” he said after a meeting of private school teachers.
“We will change our protesting style and adopt other methods that do not harm students. We can still teach the students and protest in the afternoon.”
“But if for some reason the salary scale is not referred to Parliament, we will go back to strike,” he said.
Mahfoud said that private school teachers, whose salaries are benchmarked against the wages of public school teachers, have not received a raise in years. Most private schools failed to even heed a minimum wage increase passed by the government for both public and private sector employees in February 2012, he said.
Mahfoud warned that official grade 12 exams and the upcoming parliamentary elections, both scheduled for the summer, would not take place if the UCC demands were not met.
“Teachers are key staff in polling stations and official exams correction and monitoring. We have several cards to play,” he said.
There has been almost complete participation from public school teachers in the strike, which began about two weeks ago. However, the majority of private schools have remained open.
Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC, told The Daily Star that the move by the private schools did not concern public school teachers, who would push on with their open-ended strike.
Describing a meeting with Mikati Saturday as a failure, he said the UCC would continue to step up protests this week, particularly Wednesday, when a general strike is scheduled.
“The UCC considers the position of Prime Minister Mikati shockingly negative,” a statement following the meeting said. “[Mikati’s position] shows that there is continuous procrastination.”
The prime minister said after the meeting that the government needed more time to look into the economic impact of the wage hikes, which are expected to cost at least $1.2 billion.
“When we studied the salary scale GDP growth was 5 percent. Today growth is 1.5 percent. The conditions are completely different,” Mikati said. “Even if the Parliament had passed the new salary scale, we would have restudied it.”