Airport employees warn to join public sector strike

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Protesters rally outside the Rafik Hariri International Airport, Beirut on Friday, March 15, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Employees at Beirut’s international airport warned the government Friday they would join public sector workers in their strike over the delay in referring a wage scale draft to Parliament.

"Airport staff will stop working in the event the government does not refer the salary scale to Parliament on March 21," said Ali Meqdad, who spoke on behalf of civil aviation staff, referring to the Cabinet session scheduled to discuss the issue.

Meqdad was surrounded by hundreds of civil servants and teachers who launched their open-ended strike on Feb. 19 as a means of pressuring the government to finalize the wage hike.

There was a heavy security presence, with Lebanese soldiers and police outnumbering the protesters who marched from the Beirut neighborhood of Burj al-Barajneh to the arrivals section of Rafik Hariri International Airport.

Despite soaring temperatures, the protesters stood firm in their demands and vowed further demonstrations as a means of pressuring the government, which they accused of neglect.

The airport was the latest of government and state-related sites that have been targeted by the protesters during the strike period. The Union Coordination Committee, which is spearheading the demonstrations, has targeted several ministries and Thursday moved its protest to Beirut Port.

Friday’s demonstration did not lead to disruptions to air traffic but the four weeks of daily protests have crippled most government offices and public schools across the country.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati says more time is needed to look into means of financing the wage hike that was approved by his Cabinet last year which is estimated to cost the treasury some $1.2 billion annually.

The private sector, represented by the Economic Committees, has rallied against the adoption of the pay raise, arguing it would burden the national economy already reeling under severe conditions.

The March 21 Cabinet session to be headed by President Michel Sleiman is aimed at making a final decision about the salary scale that would affect thousands of people including teachers of both private and public schools.

The Daily Star - Lebanon