Lebanon’s public sector strike on Monday spread to the country’s schools, with private and public institutions across the country shutting down as teachers walked out in demand for increased public sector wages.
The Syndicate Coordination Committee leading the strike also is set to hold protests across the country after it announced Saturday that it would be escalating measures ahead of Wednesday’s expected cabinet session.
Private Teachers Syndicate head Nehme Mahfoud on Sunday called on all school teachers to hold “peaceful and democratic” demonstrations against the government delay in wrapping up a new system of wage increases for public employees.
“I call on teachers to maintain the democratic and peaceful nature of our [protest on Monday],” Mahfoud told MTV television.
Private schools across the country have however responded to the syndicate calls to suspend work on Monday and join countrywide protests.
The Beirut private school syndicate called for “a heavy participation in the sit-in on Monday,” while the Sidon private school teachers urged students’ parents “not to send their children to schools,” and vowed “total commitment to the open strike.”
Meanwhile Secretary General of Catholic Schools Father Boutros Azar rebuffed the calls for protest and requested schools to remain open.
“Tomorrow is a normal teaching day,” the secretary general told the Lebanese television station.
He also rejected “the logic of threats” adopted by the syndicates and called for “dialogue and understanding” in dealing with the controversy surrounding the wage increases issue.
Meanwhile, Mahfoud alsow warned that Monday’s protests “will obstruct work at the Central Bank.”
In the northern city of Tripoli, a meeting organized by public and private school teachers was held on Sunday and attended by Mahfoud and Syndicate Coordination Committee chief Hanna Gharib.
According to the National News Agency, Gharib underscored during the meeting the syndicates’ determination to “go forth and escalate the strikes.”
“I encourage everyone to intensify peaceful movements, sit-ins and demonstrations in the upcoming days.”
The NNA also reported that a decision was taken during the meeting to block the Tripoli-Maarad road on Monday morning as a sign of protest and to prevent school buses from circulating.
Other protest measures were agreed upon, including a sit-in near the Tripoli Central Bank on Monday and another one at the city’s Nour Square on Tuesday.
Speaking to Voice of Lebanon (100.5) on Monday, Mahfoud highlighted the peaceful nature of the protest movement led by teachers.
“The teachers on strike are not outlaws. This protest is as white as snow and a small dispute will not stain it. I will be responsible for any dispute that breaks out.”
He also voiced the strikers' determination to persevere with their protests, saying that the government “will not get one penny before they refer the ranks and salaries system to parliament.”
“This movement will only end with the ratification of the system.”
Meanwhile, Minister of Economy Nicolas Nahhas said that the delay in referring the new wage increases to parliament was due to the government’s willingness to assess “all the repercussions it would have on the economy and to conduct all necessary studies.”
“There’s still a study that hasn’t been finalized,” the minister told Voice of Lebanon (100.5) radio station on Monday.
The SCC on Saturday also announced that all official state exams would be postponed by the number of days teachers are on strike.
Lebanon’s Syndicate Coordination Committee announced postponing school and official state exams by the number of days during which the public sector is on strike, the National News Agency reported.
Lebanese school teachers and government employees staged general strikes across the country last week and demanded that the government speed up its approval of the funding for salary raises.
In early September 2012, the Lebanese cabinet approved a new ranks and salaries system. However, a debate is ongoing regarding the requisite funds to cover the wage increase for public employees.