Wage Scale Suffers Spillover of Presidential Vacuum

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The vacuum in the presidency on Tuesday spilled over into parliament, which once again failed to approve a controversial wage hike draft-law, angering civil servants and mainly teachers who vowed to go ahead with their plan to boycott the official exams.

A legislative session that had been postponed to Tuesday was adjourned by Speaker Nabih Berri to June 10 over lack of quorum caused by the boycott of the majority of Christian lawmakers.

Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan said during a press conference in parliament that legislation amid a vacancy at the presidential palace “is not permissible.”

He laid the blame of the vacuum on the MPs who boycotted the session that were aimed at electing a president.

“The March 14 alliance supports social demands,” Adwan said.

His rival from the Change and Reform bloc MP Ibrahim Kanaan, also a Christian, called for consensus on the rights of civil servants within the limits of the state's capabilities.

The settlement on the controversial draft-law takes place among the different parliamentary blocs, he said in a press conference.

President Michel Suleiman left Baabda Palace on Sunday after the expiry of his six-year term and amid the failure of parliament to elect a new head of state over differences between the March 8 and 14 alliances on a consensual candidate.

The vacuum at the presidential Palace prompted Christian MPs to boycott legislative sessions.

But the boycott of Tuesday's session angered civil servants.

Mahmoud Haidar, the head of the association of state employees, told protesters near the Education Ministry in Beirut that the public sector and official exams will be “paralyzed” if MPs did not approve the pay raise.

“What happened today is a boycott of people's rights,” said head of Public Secondary School Education Teachers Association Hanna Gharib at the protest held in the UNESCO area.

“The interests of civil servants cannot be boycotted ...There is no state without civil servants,” Gharib, who heads the Syndicate Coordination Committee, told the protesters.

Addressing MPs, he said: “You are mistaken. The SCC can't be besieged.”

The SCC, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, holds onto its stance, he said. “We won't back off from our demand for the 121 percent wage hike.”

He was referring to the raise as initially approved by ex-PM Najib Miqati's government in 2012.

A ministerial-parliamentary committee has reduced the total funding from LL2.8 trillion ($1.9 billion) to LL1.8 trillion ($1.2 billion).

However, Gharib said at the protest that the SCC will receive its rights "whether (officials) call our move a revolt or not.”

He gave MPs until June 7 – the first day of official exams - to agree on the wage hike.

But the postponement of the legislative session to discuss the wage scale to June 10 was a clear sign that the exams would not be held although Education Minister Elias Bou Saab said there were no changes in the dates.

"The official exams will be held on time," he said in a press conference.

Bou Saab urged parliament to adopt the pay raise by June 7, warning that failure to do so would leave the future of students in limbo.



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