Lebanese Teachers: The Never-Ending Wages Battle

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Teachers protest better wages in Beirut, carry a sign which reads "Lebanon is a country built on civil justice and equality?!" Teachers in Lebanon spend as much time on the street struggling for fair wages as they do in their classrooms. (Photo: Marwan Bu Haidar)

By: Rasha Abouzaki

Published Thursday, March 22, 2012

Secondary school teachers in Lebanon have struggled continuously to keep their earned rights, which have been steadily eroding since 1995.

The dispute between teachers and the government is a long running one. Teachers in Lebanon spend as much time on the street struggling for fair wages as they do in their classrooms.

Every year, we witness demonstrations and protests which shut down Lebanon’s schools. Most of the time, the teachers win some of their demands.

The biggest and most prominent of these battles is that of salary scales. It has been a war of attrition for many years. The most prominent case is that of secondary school teachers.

In 1966, these teachers began to work additional hours, and since that year, successive governments have created additional pay scales to compensate for those hours.

The situation remained this way until 1995, when the government took away these overtime payments and forced teachers to work 5 additional hours per week “for free.”

As a result of escalating protests, the unpaid additional hours were lowered to four. However, the draft law on salary scales prepared recently adjusts the pay scales back to the levels they were at in 1995.

The law adds unpaid hours to the workload of secondary teachers and erases the results of the protests those teachers took part in to restore their rights.

The process of eroding teachers’ rights is not limited to the issue of working hours. The 1995 law increased the differences in pay scales between secondary school teachers and university professors from one to six scale grades between 1961-1994.

Between 1995 and 2008, it was further increased to 18 scale grades (which are equivalent to 36 extra years of service). The latest draft law increases the difference to between 43 and 52 scale grades.

This is not a small difference and is not logical. Because of this, the official Association of Secondary Teachers decided to call a cautionary strike on March 27 which will include all the regions of Lebanon. Their slogan is: “No to slavery in the education sector.”

Minister of Finance, Mohammad Safadi, has confirmed to Al-Akhbar that the draft law on salary scales prepared by the Civil Service Council has been withdrawn so that it can be amended.

Apparently, it has become clear that some of its clauses are unfair.

Therefore, some improvements and amendments are being carried out at the moment to turn a new leaf in the way the government treats those who work in the education sector, on all levels.

The basis of these changes will be to make sure teachers are treated fairly and achieve parity in terms of scales and salaries. Safadi explains that he held a meeting with Education Minister Hassan Diab, to coordinate over a new draft law.

There will be a second meeting with Diab on Friday to discuss matters further. At the beginning of next week, the ministry will have completed the required amendments to the draft law and a final study will take place.

The ministry says it is open to discussing the draft law with all concerned parties, with the possibility of seeking advice from specialists if need be.

Safadi maintains that a delegation from the Secondary Teachers’ Association handed him a memorandum some time ago. The teachers’ delegation gave the ministry a deadline for putting into practice what was in the memo.

“The ministry does not respond to this tactic of deadlines. This is a sensitive issue, it needs thorough examination, particularly when this draft law will pave the way for a new phase of interaction between the government and the education sector,” Safadi says.

The head of the association, Hanna Gharib, says that the ministry has to safeguard the career scale of a secondary teacher, which has deteriorated because the gap between a teacher’s starting salary and that of an assistant university lecturer has reached 52 scale grades.

Teachers’ minimum wage has also deteriorated from 4.5 times to double. The percentage of their pay scale grade on the basis of salary deteriorated from 9 percent to 3.3 percent.

Gharib explains that the memorandum given to Safadi by the association included an explanation of the situation of secondary school teachers.

Since 1996, a secondary school teacher has been categorized in the same pay scale grade as a grade 3 civil servant (head of department), and in exactly the same job position – and both were given the same salary.

Between 1996-1998, article 21/1987 imposed increased work hours on secondary teachers.

In return they were given overtime compensation which reached its uppermost limits in 1998 as follows: 60 percent of the basic salary of a secondary teacher and 75 percent of the basic salary of a secondary headmaster (the 15 percent accounts for extra working hours).

These percentages became the constant difference between the salary of a secondary teacher and the salary of a grade 3 civil servant.

When law 717/98 was passed on 11 May 1998, this constant differential (60 percent) was removed, so that the secondary teachers’ salary became equal to the salary of a grade 3 civil servant, despite the increase in their working hours, still applicable under law 55/66 and its amendments.

Based on the legal principle that there should be no work without compensation, the secondary teachers demanded their right to the 60 percent, so the government granted them 10.5 scale grades which translate into 50 percent.

Headmasters were given 10.5 grades as well as 15 percent as management remuneration.

So, basically, the government is still underpaying both teachers and headmasters by 10 percent compared to what they used to get.

Not only that, but by delaying the implementation of a proposed reduction in working hours until after the 16th year of service (compared to the original 12), the government again imposed an additional increase in working hours that teachers will not be compensated for.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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