Lebanon's unions preparing for strike action

Published February 10th, 2013 - 12:19 GMT
The strike will not stop until the new salary scale is passed, preparations still proceeding despite pressure
The strike will not stop until the new salary scale is passed, preparations still proceeding despite pressure

Preparations for an open-ended strike planned for Feb. 19 by teachers and civil servants are proceeding despite mounting government pressure, head of the Union Coordination Committee said Friday as the private sector reiterated opposition to raises.

“Of course, several political sides are pressuring us to abandon the strike, and they continue to give empty promises,” said Hanna Gharib, head of the UCC, a group of public and private teachers, as well as civil servants.

“But we are a democratic group, and teachers’ associations in all Lebanese areas are now meeting to take a decision on the open-ended strike,” he told The Daily Star. “We are not concerned by political pressure, and we want to secure our rights.”

Gharib said by next week most public teachers associations would have voted on participating in the strike. “Until now, it is very positive, and most teachers are firm in their support for the open-ended strike,” he said.

Gharib added that teachers and public servants would gradually escalate protests to demand the implementation of the new public sector salary scale. He said sit-ins, protests and gatherings would be held on a daily basis.

The Public Sector Employees Committee has also announced that members would be voting Monday on whether to go ahead with the open-ended strike.

In a statement, they slammed what they described as “threats” voiced by the Economic Committees, a private sector group that has strongly opposed the public raises.

A debate on whether public sector workers have the right to instigate strikes has emerged after the Committees called on the government to enforce a law which restricts civil servants’ right to unionize.

As preparations continued for the strike, the private sector reiterated its strong opposition to the raises. Mohammad Choukeir, head of the Beirut Chamber of Commerce, told The Daily Star the government could not afford to implement such raises amid bleak economic and fiscal forecasts.

He said the private sector, in turn, could not afford to pay more taxes to fund such a huge expenditure, which is expected to cost around $1.2 billion.

“They have to understand that the new scale can be postponed until the economic and fiscal situation improves,” he said, adding that the government already handed over $750 million in increments to civil servants last year.

In January 2012, the government raised wages for both public and private sector workers by up to $200.

Choukeir confirmed that the government has been leading efforts to delay the strike, hoping that a compromise would be reached with the teachers and civil servants.

“I believe this has been partly successful and [some of the Union Coordination Committee members] are showing leniency,” he said.

“Proceeding with the strike would lead to nowhere because this will only harm citizens’ interests. People need to engage in dialogue and discuss the economic impact of policies,” he said.

But Gharib said the UCC would yield to pressure: “This time the strike will not stop until the new salary scale is passed.”

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