Lebanon's strike action continues
Government employees and teachers, from public and private schools, will go on strike Tuesday and Wednesday, beginning with morning protests outside government buildings all across the country. These two days will be a rehearsal for a general strike. The general strike aims to pressure the government, to submit to parliament a revised pay scale for public sector employees, for ratification.
There is no state without state employees. The Union Coordination Committee (UCC) hopes the organized strike will testify as truth to their slogan, as it brings the public sector, and all public and private schools in the country, to a standstill Tuesday and Wednesday.
The UCC is calling for the approval of the, much-debated, revised payment system, in full. The bill is considered to be a precondition for administrative, financial, and educational reform, and for securing social stability.
The UCC held a press conference Monday to stress its independent union role and its readiness to continue with defending the rights of employees.
“The pay scale was approved [by the government] on 1 July 2012 in accordance with the value of wages and ranks, which we had agreed upon,” declared Mahmoud Haidar, president of the League of Public Sector Employees.
“The financial resources required for its implementation have been secured, with an extra 20 percent to spare,” Haidar said, quoting Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in a recent statement he made to the UCC.
The statement was made during a meeting also attended by labor minister Salim Jreissati.
Haidar said that the government had already consulted with every local and international institution, and discussed the ramifications, of revising the pay scale, on financial stability. There are no concrete reasons for the government's delay in submitting the bill to parliament, only procrastination, he maintained.
He asked why the bill had not yet been passed.
“Is it the pressure of economic chambers, big merchants and investors? Or is it the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF)? Or, maybe, the decision [to pass the bill] must be made outside of the cabinet?” he asked.
Haidar held that “not including the full wages of [public] employees in the text of the general budget – along with the scale, which would have been approved in a fast-track law – is a constitutional violation. [Not including] It can only be explained in the context of political maneuvering, meant to pit [public] employees against other citizens and create a rift between us; and to impose taxes on the poor.”
The union leader said comments about inflation, rising interest rates, and increasing debt - attributed to the governor of Lebanon’s central bank (BDL) Riad Salameh - are debatable.
Haidar objected to claims that taxing bank interests at a rate equal to that of other corporate profits will lead to doom.
He also categorically rejected claims that taxing profits from real estate gains will hurt the economy.
He called on Salameh not to succumb to political pressure that will put him in conflict with a third of Lebanese citizens. He asked him to remain faithful to his role in protecting the country’s monetary and financial stability.
While the budgeted balance sheet is likely to show a deficit, Haidar added that bank deposits are projected to increase by $US9 billion in 2012, which would cover that discrepancy.
And Haidar said that, contrary to the widely held misconception, wages from both the public and private sector in Lebanon constitute no more than 25 percent of the GDP, which is one of the lowest ratios in the world – it is 40 percent in the US.
The union’s secretary, Walid Jradeh, noted that there is an effort to break the union ranks by having two laws governing teachers: one for public schools and the other for private ones; “We will not allow it,” he declared.
Head of the teacher’s union Nehme Mahfouz responded to private school owners, who attempted to drown out the UCC’s demands.
“Those striking tomorrow and the day after [Tuesday and Wednesday] are the teachers, not the bosses or administrators,” he announced. “The parents understand the demands of 400,000 [teachers’] families. They do not oppose the improvement of our situation, and they know we care about their children.”
He responded to attacks on teachers, who were accused of betraying their image by ‘screaming in front of the cameras.’ “Our screaming is the voice of the people. Our ethics are those of protecting educational competencies in the profession. Our strike is sacred, and protected by law and the constitution.”
In solidarity with the UCC strike, the Federation of Workers and Employees Unions in Lebanon (FENASOL) released a statement Monday, declaring singleness of purpose with the union rights of teachers and public sector employees. It called on all segments of society – workers, teachers, women and youth – to participate in the mobilization.
In a separate statement, the staff of the State Employees Fund also announced their support for the two-day strike.