Lebanon: Cabinet Bluffs on Pay Raise

The UCC, which represents public teachers and employees, went on strike yesterday that shut down the ministries and public administration. (Photo: Marwan Tahtah)

By: Rasha Abouzaki

Published Friday, September 7, 2012

Using confusing language, the Lebanese cabinet buys time in settling the public sector’s salary scale. Unions, however, have threatened to take action if the agreement they reached with the government is not enacted immediately.

Following Thursday’s cabinet meeting, social affairs minister Wael Abu Faour announced that the adjustment to the government workers’ salaries scale had been passed, according to the version proposed by the ministerial committee and approved by the Union Coordinating Committee (UCC).

But a little bit later in his statement, confusion reigned as he announced that the proposed installments – through which the differences will be paid – were still under negotiation, something that is not mentioned in the ministerial committee’s proposal.

Abu Faour explained that complications arose following requests to adopt the financing mechanisms that will fund the raise in salaries before the passing the new scale. These requests came from the National Struggle Front parliamentary bloc of which Abu Faour is a member, the prime minister’s bloc, some Free Patriotic Movement ministers, and some of those close to the president of the republic.

“This is what happened today...We agreed on some funding procedures that would raise 1,295 billion Lebanese Lira (LL) ($863 million) and we will agree on remaining sources next Wednesday,” he maintained.

According to the final statement of the marathon cabinet session yesterday, as told by Abu Faour, “the council of ministers approved the ranks and salaries scale, in addition to a range of financial procedures and measures.”

These include “fees on beachfront property, taxes on bank interests, an additional fee on building permits, and fines on mobile devices with unpaid customs.”

Abou Faour stressed that “the ministers tried as hard as they can to have the scale based on the capacity of the state and providing revenue in a manner that does not affect the poor. The long debate was to avoid negative repercussions on the citizens.”

In the meantime, the UCC, which represents public teachers and employees, went on strike yesterday that shut down the ministries and public administration.

The UCC pointed out that the decision needs to be clarified and then appropriate action will be taken.

“The UCC studied the decisions of the cabinet as announced by minister Wael Abu Faour, that is the approval of the salaries scale as recommended by the ministerial committee, taking into consideration the remarks of some ministers,” the statement read.

“Therefore, in order to give it time to collect all relevant data and details of the decision’s content, allowing it to take the proper position, the UCC will hold an expanded meeting at 3pm Friday, at the secondary teachers association’s headquarters in UNESCO to take a final position on the decisions,” it added.

As part of the general strike called by the UCC, public sector employees, professors, and teachers picketed outside public administration buildings protesting the government’s failure to pass the ranks and salaries scale.

In a rally outside the education ministry in the UNESCO area of Beirut, the head of the secondary teachers association Hanna Gharib gave a statement on behalf of the UCC.

He rejected “splitting or reducing the amount of the scale,” warning of “a coup against the agreement reached between the UCC and the ministerial committee.”

Gharib said that “dividing up the approval of the scale goes against the agreement and [the government’s] credibility,” Gharib accused the prime minister of breaking his promise.

“Those who think they can break the agreement are delusional and mistaken. The UCC is stronger than you think...We will see you again with more escalatory measures that could do away with the school year, announcing a strike and open sit-in until the whole scale is approved fully,” Gharib warned.

Nationwide Strike

Public school teachers and government employees also protested outside the Nabatieh Serail in South Lebanon, blocking the main road and causing a traffic jam for around an hour.

Government employees in Zahle, Amioun, the South governorate, Iqlim al-Kharroub, Baalbeck, and Tripoli held a sit-in beginning at 10am. They were joined by the heads of Beirut municipality departments outside their offices in downtown Beirut, holding up traffic for some time.

Employees of the ministries of economy, trade, telecom, and education also went on strike. Employees of the tourism and information ministries held a sit-in outside their building in Sanayeh in Beirut.

The Central Inspection Bureau was also shut down. Senior inspectors, heads of departments, and other employees protested outside their central headquarters. Employees and workers of the energy and water ministry did they same outside their offices on Corniche al-Nahr.

Teachers, professors, and public servants stood outside the Hermel government Serail. They said that the government was employing “delay tactics, which will paralyze public administration and threaten the upcoming school year.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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