SCC Heads Towards Showdown with Bou Saab over Official Exams as Teachers Threatened with Prosecutionإقرأ هذا الخبر بالعربية
Public sector employees and teachers held on Monday a sit-in in Beirut amid a deepening row with lawmakers on the wage scale draft-law and with the education minister on the official exams that are set to start on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Educational General Inspectorate threatened teachers with legal prosecution if they boycott the supervision of exams.
The Syndicate Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, has called for a two-day strike after Education Minister Elias Bou Saab pledged to hold the official exams on time even if parliament failed to approve the pay hike.
Head of Public Secondary School Education Teachers Association Hanna Gharib asked contract teachers to unite with the SCC and boycott the exams until the approval of the controversial raise for the public sector.
“We will all participate in the boycott,” he told the protesters near the education ministry.
Gharib urged them to hold a similar protest near the ministry at 10:00 am Tuesday.
Mahmoud Ayyoub, the head of the association of elementary school teachers, called on lawmakers to attend a parliamentary session on Tuesday to approve the raise.
“No one other than the SCC, with all due respect to the minister, is capable of holding the official exams,” Ayyoub told the demonstrators.
He urged teachers not to accept any invitation to monitor the exams.
The head of the association of state employees, Mahmoud Haidar, also made a speech during the protest.
“We will continue our battle on the wage scale,” he said.
Despite the SCC's pleas and threats, Bou Saab is determined to hold the exams on Thursday.
“I ask students to head to the exam centers on Thursday,” he said following talks with Speaker Nabih Berri in parliament.
“There is a possibility to approve the wage scale on Tuesday,” he told reporters.
He reiterated on Sunday that he had put in place an unprecedented plan. “It’s only up to the education ministry to decide to hold or not to hold official exams.”
Meanwhile, education inspector-general in the Central Inspection Board Faten Jomaa called on the administrative and the teaching bodies in public schools to “perform their national and professional task concerning the official exams.”
“Those who don't will be legally prosecuted,” she warned.
The SCC denounced Jomaa's announcement, but assured that her “terrorizing and intimidating” calls will not influence teachers' stance and will make them more committed to their demands.
"Educational inspectors were at the forefront of strugglers and of those demanding their neglected rights for 20 years, and have staged several protests in front of the Central Inspection Committee and taken part in all our movements,” a statement released by the SCC said in the evening.
And on Monday afternoon, contract teachers at vocational schools held a press conference and stated that their decision to monitor official exams is not directed against the SCC, stressing also that “they are on the same boat” with the committee.
"In fact we support its demands, but we are seeking the interests of the students. We perceive that it is in the students' interest to supervise exams,” they explained.
As for correcting exams, the conferees said the decision in this respect is postponed.
“We are waiting to see how things will go.”
They continued: “We are demanding concerned authorities to adopt the new wage scale and to eliminate the article on halting employment in the coming years because it is unfair.”
“We will not back down and we call on the Minister of Education to treat us justly.”
But later in the day, head of private school teachers syndicate Nehme Mahfoud reiterated that the official exams will not be held on Thursday unless the new wage scale was adopted.
“We are for holding the exams and adopting the new wage scale at the same time,” he stated at a press conference.
“The syndicate and its council are committed to the decision issued by the provinces' general assemblies. The teachers are the ones who recommended the boycott and we're implementing their decision,” Mahfoud said.
“The official exams will only be held with the approval of the SCC,” he stressed.
“And if the exams did take place it will be a sham. Who will correct them? Parents or the civil state?” Mafoud wondered.
He added: “Official exams are not a mere technical issue, but rather an educational act par excellence and there are examining committees for each subject, each comprised of 10 to 15 teachers. The heads of a school subject should have many years of experience, and there should be a first and a second correction. Education matters should not be handled by anyone (who is not qualified)."
Addressing Bou Saab, the head of private school teachers asked: “Why did you deprive private school teachers of supervising exams for over 30 years? How did the supervision of exams become a task that anyone can do? What happened to your speeches about teachers' rights? What happened to institutional work?”
“The only solution is adopting the new wage scale tomorrow and holding the exams. There is no other solution,” Mahfoud insisted.
“There are one million Lebanese waiting for issuing the new wage scale, and 100,000 others waiting for the exams.”
However, Bou Saab confirmed later to LBCI television that official exams will take place on Thursday “despite all escalation.”
A quorum for Tuesday's parliamentary session seemed secured after Berri expected Change and Reform bloc MPs, who had previously boycotted it, to attend the meeting.
Al-Mustaqbal MPs Ghazi Youssef and Serge Torsarkissian also told respectively An Nahar daily and Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3) that the bloc is mulling to participate in the session.
But Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel stressed that the bloc's lawmakers will continue to boycott the session to protest the failure to elect a new president.
Despite the possible quorum, it is not clear whether MPs will approve the wage scale because the different parties represented in parliament remain divided over proposed taxes to fund the raise.
The public sector employees and teachers are holding onto a 121 percent increase in their salaries. But a ministerial-parliamentary committee has proposed to reduce the total funding from LL2.8 trillion ($1.9 billion) to LL1.8 trillion ($1.2 billion).
It has also called for raising certain taxes, which are a source of controversy among parliamentary blocs.