Lebanon Strikes: Rising for the Raise
By: Faten Elhajj
Published Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Teachers and public sector employees in Lebanon will be implementing a one-day strike on Tuesday. All administrative work will stop during “the day for unity of union action,” as it was called by the Unions Coordination Committee.
It is not just a battle over “money” or the “salary scale,” rather, it is the battle for union rights and unity. The demands put forward by the teachers and public sector employees are no longer a secret.
They are calling for a readjustment of the salary scale for teachers to allow them to keep their positions; giving all categories, administrative sectors, retirees, and contracted workers their full rights; separating the issue of taxes from the salary scale; and approving the scale in the coming week.
They want the Lebanese government to show them the same level of commitment it showed in passing the budget bill.
Public sector employees and teachers will have their say on Tuesday, rejecting any attempt to separate salary scales and split the ranks between the different job sectors.
The Unions Coordination Committee (UCC), which represents secondary public school teachers, was recently provoked by the press statements of prime minister Najib Mikati.
“If there is a delay in sending the whole public sector salary scale to the parliament, the one related to teachers will be removed and sent separately,” he said.
This enraged the employees who decided to mobilize today to express this anger loudly. “We are not to be taken for granted,” said the head of the Public Administration Employees Association Mahmoud Haidar.
“The state should be for all employees regardless of their different job categories. Nobody will accept that they are treated separately. We entered this battle united and we will come out of it united by adopting a fair scale which takes into consideration the recommendations of the association,” he continued.
On the other hand, Al-Akhbar has learned that Mikati called for a meeting with the UCC at 10:30am on Wednesday at the prime minister’s office.
Meanwhile, the President of the Secondary Teachers Association Hanna Gharib disapproved of the prime minister’s attempt to use the teachers as a trojan horse to break the unity of union action.
“Such talk is bad for us and puts us in confrontation with administrative employees,” he said. Gharib wonders whether Mikati is reneging on his promises to the UCC.
“I am doing my job, with the utmost calm, care, and responsibility. Therefore, everything will come in its time,” Mikati had said.
Gharib wonders whether “this meant the prime minister is still not ready to approve the scale in July, after promising to approve it in June. Is Mikati playing on time by asking the Education Minister to meet with the UCC?”
Representatives of the UCC and heads of official examinations grading committees met yesterday and agreed to suspend all work related to the grading process on Tuesday.
In the same context, the head of the Private School Teachers Union Nehme Mahfouz insisted on the unity of legislation between the private and public sectors, knowing that there are several educational institutions that do not abide by the law.
“We have a detailed study on the cost of the new scale compared to tuition fees,” he said.
He went on to respond to the “fallacies of a study prepared by the Organization of Private Educational Institutions.”
Mahfouz indicated that “law 159 will increase yearly tuition fees by 50,000 Lebanese Lira (LL) (US$33) as a maximum, not a minimum, especially that it encompasses overtime, social security, and the compensation fund.”
On the other hand, law 223 will impose a yearly tuition increase of LL173,000 ($115). According to Mahfouz, this was based on a study by the same organization, not the the teachers union.
This is also a ceiling, not a minimum increase. So the total increase in two years will be LL223,000 ($149).
Nevertheless, many schools already decided to increase tuition fees, for each year, by more than LL600,000 ($400) per student.
Additionally, Mahfouz said that retroactive payments will only be for a single year, “but none of the schools reduced their tuition fees for the following year.”
“How can schools talk about increasing tuition by LL1.5 million ($1,000) per student, while those who have been teaching for 30 years do not even get a salary that high? Where will the one and a half million per student go?”
“Does increasing salaries by 50 percent per teacher (as proposed by the new scale that has not been released yet) mean an increase of 50 percent per student? Does the number of teachers equal the number of students in a school?” he wondered.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.