Parliament Adjourns Thorny Debate over Wage Scale to May 27 as SCC Protesters Vow to 'Stay on the Street'

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The parliament on Wednesday adjourned debate over the new wage scale to May 27 after having approved a number of clauses during a morning session, amid a deadlock over several controversial articles.

The points of contention are especially revolving around the Value Added Tax, seaside properties and the so-called six degrees of public school contract teachers.

As the evening session kicked off at 6:00 pm, lawmakers approved Article 14 of a draft that was prepared by a parliamentary panel formed around two weeks ago, which is related to National Lottery fees. The parliament also adopted Article 15 on the income tax after amending the panel's suggestion and raising the tax from 8% to 15%.

During the session, Berri asked a committee he had formed in the morning to devise a new formula for the fines that should be slapped on illegal seaside properties. The committee comprises ministers Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zoaiter and MPs Ali Fayyad, Jamal al-Jarrah, Alain Aoun and George Adwan.

But after a debate that lasted for more than an hour, the committee failed to reach any agreement, according to several media outlets.

However, intensive consultations were held between the committee members and head of al-Mustaqbal bloc Fouad Saniora amid talks on the sidelines of the session between MPs belonging to the Free Patriotic Movement, the Kataeb Party, the Lebanese Forces, Berri and MP Adwan, who explained to the speaker the points related to the aforementioned article.

MPs Sami Gemayel, Alain Aoun and Marwan Hamadeh then joined the Berri-Adwan talks ahead of the resumption of the evening session.

The speaker then asked parliament to start discussing the draft law on raising the minimum wage and granting cost of living compensations to public employees and contract workers and members of the armed forces, as amended by the subcommittee.

Following a long debate, Hamadeh demanded a suspension of discussions, rejecting to create any “regrettable conflict between military personnel and administrative employees.”

“We will not be able to approve the wage scale if we continue in this manner and we should not engage in an endless debate,” the lawmaker said.

The session was then suspended for 15 minutes and the break involved consultations between Berri and the representatives of parliamentary blocs, before it was resumed at 9:20 pm.

During the pause, an agreement was reached to "postpone debate over the new wage scale's controversial points and to continue discussions on the consensual articles," MTV reported, saying "this means the wage scale won't be approved tonight."

Meanwhile, LBCI TV said an agreement was reached between Berri and the parliamentary blocs to "continue discussions over the consensus points before putting the controversial ones to a vote."

But around 11:20 pm, Berri adjourned the session to May 27 due to lack of quorum.

LBCI noted that at midnight the parliament would enter the 10-day period during which the constitution forbids it from holding legislative sessions and limits its role to the election of a new president, given that the deadline for electing a successor to President Michel Suleiman ends on May 25.

For its part, OTV said "there are efforts to return the new wage scale draft to the government or to the joint parliamentary committees."

Earlier in the day, public sector employees and teachers from across Lebanon held 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 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.


Photo Credit: As-safir Newspaper

Comments 3
Missing peace 14 May 2014, 12:27

and of course no sign of support from M8ers busy defending their hezbi militia traitors rather than the lebanese people's interests....

Missing peace 15 May 2014, 11:21

sure! as soon as they are faced to discuss a law that goes against their petty personal interests they do anything they can to procrastinate and find excuses not to work on it efficiently... just to preserve their finances and thefts... with the full approval of their sheep!

Missing hajjradwan 14 May 2014, 14:45

Anyone for tennis?