Protesters clash with security forces as Lebanon's cabinet convenes

Public sector continues to fight for a living wage amid the nation's prolonged economic crisis.

Powered by automated translation

Hundreds of workers from Lebanon’s public sector protested in front of the seat of government on Tuesday as the nation’s caretaker cabinet convened to discuss their salaries.

Public school teachers, retired army and police officers, and civil servants — angry at a lack of action to address the nation's currency crisis and the devaluation of their pay — demanded better wages and threatened to escalate action if the government did not deliver.

They demanded a partial dollarisation of their salaries and pensions, rather than payment in the constantly fluctuating and devaluing national currency, which has lost over 95 per cent of its value owing to the nation's steep economic depression.

Protesters also demanded increased medical coverage, as their salaries allow for little economic mobility with which to seek medical care.

Lebanon's financial crisis, now in its fourth year, has impoverished more than 80 per cent of the population and brought most state-provided goods and services to near-standstill.

Public sector salaries — from that of civil servants to teachers — are now worth a fraction of what they were once worth.

Meanwhile, public education is in disrepair, with the school year affected by months of off-and-on strikes as teachers, some of whom cannot afford to travel to school, demand living wages.

Some public sector workers make as little as the equivalent of $50 a month.

“We are here to discuss the demands raised, which are mostly justified,” caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said before convening the cabinet session.

“We express our understanding of the cries of the demonstrators, and we affirm that we will spare no effort to follow them up.”

Although the protest began peacefully, demonstrators clashed with security forces, who repeatedly shot tear gas into the crowd after demonstrators breached the barbed wire in front of the government building.

“It’s not just our salaries, we’re fighting for our lives,” a retired officer told The National after escaping a cloud of tear gas.

“After serving our country for over 30 years, we can’t even live off our pensions,” he said.

Cries of “Shame on you!” could be heard as protesters ran from the smog of tear gas.

“Thieves! Thieves! This government session is made of thieves,” demonstrators chanted after they had reconvened.

“If the demands of citizens are not heard, people’s pain will soon mutate into something else,” said retired army officer and former MP Chamel Roukoz to local media.

Last month, hundreds of retired army soldiers demonstrated for better pensions, clashing with police. They dispersed following promises by Mr Mikati that the issue of public sector salaries would be reviewed at the next cabinet meeting.

Earlier on Tuesday, Lebanon's Parliament convened in a controversial session, voting to postpone, because of a lack of money, the municipal elections that had been planned for May 2023.

Updated: April 18, 2023, 5:36 PM