The Cabinet is expected to endorse Wednesday the wage increase agreed between the private sector and the General Labor Confederation after the Shura Council turned down for the third time the government’s plans to improve the salary package.
The council made it clear Tuesday that the government was obliged to stick to the earlier agreement which had been reached between the private sector and the GLC. It added that the government had no legal right to add transportation allowances to the basic salary, describing this move as unprecedented. The Shura Council is an advisory body which gives its opinions on controversial issues. While the views expressed by the council are non-binding, the government traditionally takes the council’s comments into consideration.
The Free Patriotic Movement, which backed the Cabinet’s wage plan that was drafted by FPM Labor Minister Charbel Nahhas, said it would form a committee to assess the verdict issued by the Shura Council. It claimed that there were numerous loopholes in the verdict and expressed its intention to expose them soon. It was not clear whether the ministers who voted in favor of Nahhas’ plan would challenge the council’s verdict Wednesday, but sources told The Daily Star the Cabinet was likely to endorse the deal in its Wednesday session.
The deal signed between the two groups stipulates that the minimum wage be hiked by LL175,000 to LL675,000. The transportation allowance would remain at the current level of LL8,000 per working day, totaling around LL176,000 a month.
Salaries under LL1 million would see a LL200,000 increase, while salaries between LL1 million and LL1.5 million would increase by LL250,000 and salaries above LL1.5 million would increase by LL300,000. But the deal stipulates that any employee who has received a wage increase since Jan. 1, 2010 would not benefit from the measure if the raise they received from their employer exceeded the amount in the decision. However, economists told The Daily Star that all employers who gave a raise to some of their employees two years ago must prove that this increase was for the high cost of living. “If the company or employer fails to issue a memo stating that the increase the employees received was for the high cost of living then they [employers] must give their staff another raise based on the last Cabinet decision,” an expert told The Daily Star.
Mohammad Choukair, head of the Beirut Chamber of Commerce, hailed the verdict by the Shura Council, which he said had saved the Lebanese economy from the “devastating” impact Nahhas’ plan would have had. “The verdict assured there were no winners or losers, putting the economic interests of the country first,” he told The Daily Star. The verdict said the Cabinet had exceeded its powers when it endorsed the plan suggested by Nahhas. “Adding the LL236,000 allowance to basic salaries falls under the responsibility of the Parliament, the body which had decided to give the illegal allowance back in 1995,” it said.
On Dec. 21, the Cabinet approved a wage hike proposal by Nahhas which stipulated that the minimum wage would increase to LL868,000 – a sum that included a LL236,000 transportation allowance which the government added to the basic salary. “The government’s intervention in denoting the value of increases in the cost of living and adjusting wages accordingly remain an exceptional intervention valid only in exceptional cases when a need for the intervention arises,” the statement added. It said the law authorized the government to intervene in wages only in the event that collective bargaining between the private sector and labor groups proved unsuccessful. The GLC and private sector leaders had inked their deal at the same Cabinet session which saw ministers opting instead for Nahhas’ wage proposal.
Ghassan Ghosn, head of the GLC, told The Daily Star that the Shura Council had affirmed in the verdict his group’s agreement with the private sector. He said his group does not comment on legal verdicts but said the government bears the responsibility for failing to cover legal gaps in its decision.
Hanna Gharib, head of the Union Coordination Committee, a gathering of public employees’ and teachers’ unions, rejected the GLC-private sector agreement, as well as the verdict by the Shura Council. “The committee will return to instigating strikes and protests; we cannot accept an agreement that was signed by a group which does not represent workers,” he told The Daily Star.