Unions turn up the heat on Lebanese PM
Thousands of teachers and public servants demonstrated near the presidential palace in Baabda Tuesday vowing to step up their protests until the draft law to boost salaries is referred to Parliament. “Enough promises. We will not back down until you meet our demands,” said the secretary-general of the Union Coordination Committee Nazih Jerbawi.
“We demand that his excellency [President Michel Suleiman] looks into our demands and take a decisive position at Cabinet sessions to pass it as soon as possible.”
Sleiman pledged over the weekend to push forward salary increases and refer it to Parliament in the first Cabinet session after March 21.
Most private school teachers have resumed classes but public sector teachers and many civil servants remained on strike.
Head of the Public Sector Employees Association Mahmoud Haidar pledged that civil servants would remain committed to the strike until the new salary scale is passed.
A statement by the UCC called on teachers and public employees to gear up for protests Thursday, when Teachers’ Day is celebrated in Lebanon. Wednesday’s protest is scheduled at the Energy Ministry on Corniche anNahar in Beirut.
“The [Teachers’ Day] will be about anger on officials that forgo the needs of their people,” the statement said.
The National News Agency reported that the high turnout of protesters resulted in blocking the Baabda-Jamhour highway.
The head of the Beirut Chambers of Commerce, Mohammad Choukeir, called for a contingency plan, amid what he described as the worst economic conditions since the Civil War.
“What is happening is not simple but it is affecting the fundamentals of the economy and results achieved over two decades,” he said.
He said several sectors including tourism continued to decline in the first two months of the year.
In a wide-ranging interview with local television station MTV, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he would not pass the new salary scale under the pressure of the strike, which has been ongoing for two weeks. “I hope the UCC will suspend the strike and I pledge, in return, to put it on the agenda of the Cabinet after March 21 and refer it to Parliament,” he said.
Mikati added that over 60 percent of the raises were already covered by a wage increase given to both private and public sector employees in February.
“The new wage scale is the straw that will break the camel’s back. We either should expand the cup or cut a little of its contents,” he said.