Lebanon’s Parliament has failed to pass a public sector salary scale bill, which would have seen an overall maximum salary increase of $1.4 billion.
The bill, approved by the Najib Mikati Government in 2013, falls far below the original $1.9 billion sought. This according to EI’s national affiliates in Lebanon, the Ligue des professeurs de l’enseignement secondaire public du Liban (LPESPL) and the Teachers Syndicate of Lebanon (TSL).
On 14 May, thousands of Lebanese teachers and civil servants held a so-called “day of rage” to put pressure on political parties in the Parliament. Tax measures proposed to finance various salary increases were the stumbling block that prevented an accord.
Demonstrators gathered at Beirut’s Riad Al Solh square and held placards with slogans urging members of parliament (MPs) to stop procrastinating. One placard read: “Resolve it (the scale) or go away”, and TSL President Nehme Mahfoud criticised alleged corruption in state institutions.
Ongoing protest, no result so far
For his part, LPESPL President Hanna Gharib requested that MPs remain honest about their commitment to the Union Coordination Committee (UCC), comprising EI affiliates, and approve the wage rises.
Gharib also called on MPs to stop postponing their deliberations indefinitely, and urged the Government to enforce a qualification-based employment policy and refrain from increasing taxes on the poor.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said that the Parliament did not legislate under pressure and that he would call for a session on 25 May if no decisions were reached on 14 May, since he “preferred to avoid a dispute in the last 10 days before President Michel Suleiman’s six-year term expires”.
Lebanese teachers began staging protests a year ago, and their most recent strike started two weeks ago.
EI: Teachers entitled to decent salaries
“The UCC has reported that the parliamentary joint committee failed to agree on how to finance the controversial salary scale increase that was agreed in 2013,” EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen stated in a letter dated 13 May to the Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri. “In its last version of the draft law, the parliamentary joint committee recommended that the size of the public sector salary increase be reduced drastically, and that an increase in taxes be used to finance the new salary scale.”
The revised draft law is unacceptable, he wrote, as it will only further reduce the rights, benefits, and entitlements of teachers and other public sector workers. “Lebanese teachers are more than justified in their demand that their salaries be revised, after an 18-year freeze during which inflation increased by 121 per cent. The teachers, through the UCC, also rightfully reject the notion of a tax increase, which would again penalise low-income families.”
In his letter, van Leeuwen also emphasises EI’s support for the UCC, which has been struggling for the last three years to ensure fair and appropriate salaries for all public sector employees including teachers. The UCC has successfully introduced educational reforms to attract and support qualified teachers. However, qualified teachers may leave the education sector if their salaries no longer cover their living costs, instead decreasing in real terms as the cost of living increases.
Van Leeuwen also highlights that “despite labour disputes and the inadequate support they have received to cope with challenges that are beyond their professional spheres of responsibility, Lebanese teachers have done their very best to ensure full and equal educational opportunities for all children, including Syrian and Palestinian refugee children”.
“Education International and its member organisations worldwide respectfully urge your Parliament to pass the rightful salary scale bill for teachers and public employees, without the tax increases proposed by the joint committee,” the letter goes on. “We hope that the government will waste no time in giving teachers what they have earned over the last 18 years through their dedication to providing quality education to a generation of Lebanese children.”