Strikes in Lebanon rumbles on into second week
Private school teachers will not report to work Monday, joining their peers in public schools and civil service who will maintain an open-ended strike this week to pile further pressure on the government to endorse a wage hike. “We have decided to escalate protests starting Monday and we will shut down all private schools,” said Nehme Mahfoud, head of the Private Schools Teachers Association.
Mahfoud told The Daily Star that the teachers would seal off the entrances to private schools starting from 6 a.m. to make sure none of them receive students.
“All Lebanon’s students are equal and this movement will not stop until the new salary scale is forwarded to Parliament,” he said. “Students should not bother going to school.”
In response to the threat, the Internal Security Forces said in a statement it would take all measures to ensure that no one was forced to go on strike.
However, several private school groups said they would remain open.
Butros Azar, the secretary-general of Catholic Schools – a leading private school group – said educational institutes under his authority would remain open in spite of the actions by the Union Coordination Committee.
“The Catholic Schools will not observe the UCC-led strike and we entrust the president, the education and interior ministers [to find solutions],” he told The Central News Agency.
Azar said he denounced threats against Catholic schools in north Lebanon, where he said sides have put pressure on teachers to join the strike.
The Frères schools, however, announced they would close Monday.
The open-ended strike, which has paralyzed Lebanon’s public sector institutions and schools, kicked off Tuesday following unsuccessful last-minute attempts by the government to approve a plan to fund wage hikes, estimated to cost at least $1.2 billion.
Protesters Saturday held a second sit-in in less than a week outside the Finance Ministry’s Value Added Tax Department. Rallies at public offices and schools were held across Lebanon.
Economy Minister Nicolas Nahas said over the weekend that any solution to fund the salary scale must include paying the raises in installments over several years.
“We should respect the need to keep the fiscal deficit at an acceptable level when we consider the new salary scale. If new state revenues were not created, the salary scale will have dire economic impact,” Nahas added.
He has also said that no country could afford a public wage increase of 60 percent, warning that it would lead to a significant increase in inflation.
Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC, said teachers and public servants had grown immune to political sides’ pressure to call off the strike.
“Enough procrastination and excuses. If the prime minister puts his hands on corruption and illegally built seaside properties, he can fund the salary scale,” he said.
Gharib reiterated that labor unions rejected any government plans to pay the salary hikes in installments, adding that any cuts in hikes for retired employees would not be accepted.
Protests would start Monday outside the Central Bank and the Beirut Chamber of Commerce in Sanayeh at 10 a.m., he added.