Lebanon’s public transportation unions said Monday they would proceed with a strike scheduled for April 19, urging the state to cap soaring gasoline and diesel prices and increase the family compensation allowances.
“We demand fixing the price of [20 liters of] gasoline at LL25,000 and diesel at LL20,000, as well as increasing family compensation allowances and decreasing the monthly fees incurred by the National Social Security Fund,” representatives of the transport unions said in a statement. “Lebanese officials only understand the language of strikes,” head of the Union of Public Transportation Drivers Abdul-Amir Najdeh told reporters after a general assembly meeting of representatives of the country’s public transportation associations in Baalbek.
In a high-pitched tone, Najdeh urged drivers to block roads until their demands were met by the state. Gasoline prices soared to record levels last week with 98- and 95-octane graded fuel both rising by LL700.
The price of 98-octane graded fuel is now LL39,100 while the 95-octane graded fuel is LL38,400, according to the Energy and Water Ministry’s weekly price update list. The prices of both fuels are expected to exceed LL40,000 by Wednesday.
Bassam Tleis, Head of the Confederation of Transport Unions, urged the government to subsidize fuel prices and crack down on unlicensed public transport vehicles. “Why doesn’t the state treasury support citizens even once despite inflicting on people a burden of more than $60 billion in public debt?” Tleis asked.
In May 2011, former Finance Minister Raya al-Hasan brokered a deal giving a monthly state subsidy of LL470,000 to taxi drivers and LL350,000 to truck drivers over a period of three months.
Head of the Association of Minivan Drivers and Taxi Owners Ali Hamadeh urged drivers and minivan owners to abide by the law and help in the crackdown on unlicensed vans in cooperation with the Interior Ministry. Tleis also questioned the role of fuel distributors and gas station owners in making illegal profits. “Do merchants buy fuel on a weekly basis or every three months?” Tleis asked.
Distribution companies and gas station owners update the prices of gasoline on a weekly basis. In late March, distribution companies halted the sale of gasoline after Energy Minister Gebran Bassil failed to sign the weekly update as scheduled.