Beirut airport workers vow to join the strike

Published March 17th, 2013 - 07:39 GMT
Protestors at Beirut airport call for higher wages (Daily Star)
Protestors at Beirut airport call for higher wages (Daily Star)

Employees at Beirut’s international airport warned the government Friday that they would join public sector workers in their strike to protest the delay in referring a new wage scale draft law to Parliament.

“Airport staff will stop working if the government fails to refer the salary scale to Parliament on March 21,” said Imad Meqdad, who spoke on behalf of civil aviation staff, regarding the Cabinet session scheduled to discuss the issue.

Hours later, Minister of State Marwan Kheireddine said the ministerial committee, which is tasked with the preparation of the draft law, had finalized the proposal and would submit it for approval by next week’s session.

While Kheireddine did not specify details of the draft to be put forward by Cabinet, the minister had said earlier this week that a previous wage increase, including salary hikes awarded to judges and Lebanese University professors, constituted more than half the funds needed for the new scale.

Civil servants and teachers launched their open-ended strike on Feb. 19 to pressure the government into finalizing the wage hike.

There was a heavy security presence, with Lebanese soldiers and police outnumbering the protesters, who marched from the Beirut neighborhood of Burj al-Barajneh to the arrivals section of Rafik Hariri International Airport.

The protesters stood firm in their demands and vowed to stage further demonstrations as a means of pressuring the government, which they accused of neglect.

The airport was the latest target of protests that have covered nearly all ministries and public departments.

The Union Coordination Committee, which is spearheading the demonstrations, has targeted several ministries and Thursday moved its protest to Beirut Port.

The UCC said it would be demonstrating at the Finance Ministry revenues offices in Beirut’s Beshara Khoury neighborhood at 10 a.m.

Friday’s demonstration did not lead to disruptions to air traffic but the four weeks of daily protests have crippled most government offices and public schools across the country.

The private sector, which is represented by the Economic Committees, has rallied against the adoption of the pay raise, arguing it would burden the national economy already reeling under severe conditions.

In a strongly worded statement, the Union of Educational Institutes, which represents most private-school owners and board members, reiterated its outright rejection of the new wage scale.

The union called on the government to revoke regulations that compel private schools to offer their teachers salaries that are in line with those of the public school teachers.

“We warn that the plan will have dire impacts not only on the economy but on educational institutes, teachers themselves and parents – who are already burdened by the government’s failure to curb rising prices,” the statement said.

Private school teachers have been invited by the UCC to join the major rally on the 21st of this month.

The protesters are expected to march again toward the Grand Serail.

But it remains to be seen whether all private schools will cancel classes on March 21.

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