Business heads willing to talk with public workers. Frem says Cabinet taking “populist positions” - Lebanon

Business heads willing to talk with public workers
Frem says Cabinet taking “populist positions”
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Mohamad Choucair, Chairman of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture called on the Union Coordination Committee (UCC) to join the dialogue between business leaders and the government. “I am with you, the economic associations support you, and we should all meet and discuss the salary scale together,” Choucair said.

The invitation for dialogue came very late, according to Walid Chaar, representative of civil servants at the UCC. “We are employed at the government and our only dialogue should be with the government,” Chaar said.

The UCC has been on strike since February 19 protesting the Cabinet’s delay in referring to the Parliament the new salary scale for public sector employees and public and private school teachers. “We will go on with our strike until the Cabinet submits the salary scale to Parliament,” said Chaar. Article 19 of the labor law prohibits public sector employees from holding a strike. However, according to Chaar, “public workers are protected by the Lebanese constitution, which has higher legal jurisdiction, and affirms the freedom of expression.” He also said the government cannot take any action against the protestors as it has signed and ratified an international agreement for public syndical freedom.

The economic associations had suspended their participation in the dialogue sessions with the government in the week when Prime Minister Najib Mikati announced that the Cabinet would adopt the salary scale for public sector employees and refer it to Parliament.

Neemat Frem, Head of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists (ALI), said “the government is taking populist positions ignoring all warnings that its conduct will hurt the country.”

Choucair said the government has not been clear on the actual cost of the salary scale and how it will pay for it: “The government has begun paying its employees the cost of living increases, estimated to cost $780 million a year, without declaring how the extra spending was funded.” He said that local banks have openly expressed their unwillingness to fund this year’s public deficit.

Business leaders have all voiced concern that if the Cabinet passes the scale to Parliament anytime soon, the latter would approve it under the pressure of the upcoming Parliamentary elections.

Nicolas Chammas, Head of the Beirut Traders Association (BTA) said the economic associations would not oppose the public salary raise if it was funded through non-tax sources. However, he said, the government should take more time to study the scale and restructure it before approving its law.


Reported by Hanadi Chami
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Date Posted: Feb 26, 2013