Many schools and government agencies across Lebanon shut Thursday to protest a government delay in implementing salary increases.
The daylong strike came in response to a call by the Union Coordination Committee, a coalition of private and public schools and the public sector, in protest at the government’s failure to send the salary scale draft law to Parliament for approval.
“We call on all public and private school teachers to observe the strike and not be intimidated by the threats of the private school administrations to fire the insubordinate teachers,” the UCC said in a statement.
However, a good number of private schools – mainly Catholics and Evangelical – did not comply with the request of the UCC.
The head of the Catholic schools said all institutions under its administration would remain open.
Last week, only a handful of private schools in Beirut remained open during the general strike called by the UCC.
The pay scale draft had been delayed despite a preliminary Cabinet decision to raise certain taxes to fund the wage increase for civil servants and public school teachers.
The UCC has said it refuses to finance the salary increases through taxes that affect ordinary citizens, claiming the increment could be easily funded if the Cabinet cut waste, combated corruption and improved tax collection, most notably from Beirut Port.
The Cabinet agreed in principle Wednesday to raise taxes on imported cars from 10 percent to 15 percent; increase taxes on interest on customer deposits from 5 to 7 percent; and increase the fiscal stamp fee on construction permits.
A source told The Daily Star that the Cabinet contemplated raising tax on luxury items such tobacco and alcoholic beverages.
“Raising taxes on luxury items should in principle generate annual revenue of $70 million a year,” the source said.
But the government will consider other taxes to secure sufficient funds for the higher wages of public sectors employees,” the source added.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati has repeatedly said Cabinet has no intention of raising taxes on limited-income families, although some economists are skeptical that the government will be able to raise enough cash to fund the salary scale.
Cabinet would hold another meeting on Oct. 31 to finalize the taxes and sources of funding pay increases.
Most ministers expressed their displeasure at the behavior of the UCC and stressed that the teachers and civil servants should exercise self restrain and avoid escalating the situation.