Public sector employees and teachers from across Lebanon held on Wednesday their biggest demonstration yet in a “day of rage” against lawmakers studying the controversial wage scale, vowing to stay on the streets until their demands are met.
The demonstrators at Beirut’s Riad al-Solh square held placards with slogans urging MPs to stop procrastinating. One placard read “Resolve it (the scale) or Go Away.”
They first gathered near the Beirut headquarters of the Association of Banks in Lebanon and then marched towards the square, the closest point to parliament.
Security forces have blocked the roads that lead to Nejmeh Square where parliament is located.
Speakers at the demonstration, which was organized by the Syndicate Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, vowed to “remain on the streets” until lawmakers approved the wage hike in accordance to its demands.
Head of the private school teachers association Nehme Mahfoud lashed out at corruption in state institutions.
He urged protesters to “remain on the streets until the new wage scale is approved.”
The head of Public Secondary School Education Teachers Association, Hanna Gharib, made a similar request.
“We will continue our actions without wavering until our rights are achieved,” he told cheering crowds.
Turning to lawmakers, he remarked: “We are relying on your honesty towards the SCC for the wage hike to be approved.”
“The injustice committed against us goes beyond the approval of the wage scale, but it is being led by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to deny us our rights,” declared Gharib.
He stressed that his remarks on money-hungry people on Tuesday was not directed against lawmakers.
Gharib’s clarification came after Speaker Nabih Berri said at the start of the legislative session on Wednesday that “the parliament does not legislate under pressure.”
He tasked the Education Minister with informing Gharib that he would file a personal lawsuit against him if he didn’t apologize for calling MPs “thieves.”
The state-run National News Agency said Wednesday’s protest was the biggest since the SCC was formed three years ago.
Many private schools, which had not closed during the one-week work stoppage of the SCC, joined the strike on Wednesday.
But several parliamentary blocs criticized the wage scale.
MPs from the centrist National Struggle Front bloc of lawmaker Walid Jumblat and the Democratic Gathering warned during a press conference ahead of the parliamentary session that despite all the amendments, the scale fell short of real reform.
“Some of the fictitious funding clauses would (negatively) affect” the SCC, they warned.
The lawmakers said their vote on the draft-law would come in accordance to the discussions that take place in parliament.
Hizbullah MP Ali Fayyad also said during a press conference that the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc rejected many of the draft-law’s clauses.
A ministerial-parliamentary committee, which studied the draft-law, has proposed to reduce the total funding of the pay hike from LL2.8 trillion ($1.9 billion) to LL1.8 trillion ($1.2 billion).
It has also suggested to increase the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 10 percent to 11 percent and increasing customs by 1 percent, in addition to raising other taxes.
But SCC officials, including Gharib, reiterated on Wednesday that the public sector employees will only accept a 121 percent wage hike as initially approved by the government of ex-PM Premier Najib Miqati in 2012.