Lebanon News

Outstanding issues impede final wage hike agreement

Former President Amine Gemayel speaks during a news conference in Beirut, Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. (The Daily Star/Dalati Nohra, HO)

BEIRUT: A meeting Friday between Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and Lebanese Forces MP George Adwan failed to produce a final deal on a wage hike for the public sector, although the former said matters were heading in the right direction. “Discussions are ongoing, things are going on in a positive way,” Khalil told The Daily Star.

“There are few details remaining that need to be tackled.”

Friday’s talks were expected to be the last on the issue in light of the progress between the two officials achieved in previous meetings. Adwan is also negotiating on behalf of the Future Movement. Khalil said he would be in continuous contact with Adwan.

The two have so far agreed on a formula under which the salary raise would be paid in installments within two years, with the first installment to be paid once the draft law is endorsed by Parliament. The wage hike would be financed by introducing a 1 percent increase on the VAT.

Parliament is expected to meet Wednesday to pass the bill, among other urgent draft laws.

The Union Coordination Committee, which has spearheaded demands for the endorsement of the wage hike over the past three years, will meet Saturday to discuss the latest developments. The group opposes tax hikes to finance the raise and rejects payments in installments.

Next week’s legislative session will be the first since May, as lawmakers from the March 14 coalition and others from Michel Aoun’s Change and Reform parliamentary bloc have refused to attend legislative meetings in the absence of a president unless they are solely to debate urgent draft laws. Lebanon has been without a president since May 25.

Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel said Friday that his party would only participate in parliamentary sessions that are dedicated to electing a new president and it would not attend next week’s session.

“Kataeb MPs will not attend any session not related to the election of a president,” Gemayel told a news conference at the party’s headquarters in Beirut’s Saifi neighborhood.

“Parliament’s doors must open for the presidential vote,” he said.

“We support the salary raise but we are afraid of the way it will be endorsed. Parties securing a quorum to pass any draft law can secure a quorum to elect a president,” Gemayel continued. “In the absence of a president, any legislating activity is incomplete and useless.”

His comments contradicted remarks made by Kataeb ally the Lebanese Forces that underlined the need to hold legislative sessions to look into urgent draft laws.

Parliament’s secretariat is set to convene Monday to agree on an agenda for a legislative session. The controversial salary raise would be the first item on the agenda.

Draft laws to allow the government to issue new eurobonds to finance state expenditure and another allowing extra-budgetary spending to pay salaries to public sector employees will also feature on the agenda.

Gemayel urged presidential candidates who are unlikely to win to “clear the stage” to allow new candidates to enter the race.

The former president said that his party would attend any Parliament session aimed at passing a new election law.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 27, 2014, on page 2.

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