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French Version

Cabinet 'set to hike minimum wage by 50 percent'

Lebanon's Cabinet was poised to raise minimum wage for the private and public sectors from LL300,000 to LL450,000 and may slash import duties on some basic food items to alleviate the economic hardship on the Lebanese, a senior official told The Daily Star.

But the General Labor Confederation (GLC) quickly dismissed the LL150,000 raise as "offensive and ridiculous," pledging to go ahead with a general strike on Wednesday. It insisted that it will not accept anything less than a minimum wage of LL960,000.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity while Monday's Cabinet session was still in progress, told The Daily Star that most ministers seemed to be in favor of raising the minimum wage to LL450,000 and may consider reducing the tariffs on some food items.

"There will be some discussions among the ministers but in the end all will agree on offering a raise of LL150,000," the official said.

He added that the decision would be effective immediately once the decree is published in the national gazette.

"But first the resigned minister of labor, Trad Hamadeh, must sign the decree or give an excuse for not endorsing the raise," the official said.

However, Hamadeh told The Daily Star last week that he will not sign any decree or decision coming from "this illegitimate government." But he hinted that he may travel outside the country to allow the Cabinet to pass the measure.

As far as raises for employees of the public sector, the government made it clear that this will not become effective unless Speaker Nabih Berri opens Parliament to endorse the move.

With prices rising across the economy, the government is under mounting pressure to raise the minimum wage, which has not changed since 1996.

Finance Minister Jihad Azour said recently that he does not favor a substantial increase in the minimum wage because it would lead to rampant inflation.

"Most of the prices in Lebanon are rising due to external factors such as the depreciation of the US dollar and rise in the prices of oil and wheat," Azour said on Saturday.

Most economists interviewed by The Daily Star ruled out any significant rise in inflation if the wage increase is modest.

GLC president Ghassan Ghosn told reporters that several organizations and unions had voiced support for the general strike on Wednesday.

He added that there would be peaceful demonstrations, calling on the security forces and the army to escort the demonstrators.

Ghosn is scheduled to announce full details about the general strike on Tuesday.

However, most observers believe that all banks and most companies and shops will remain open during the action.

The private sector itself seem divided over the minimum wage issue, with some favoring a modest increase while others claim that they'd rather lay off their staff than heed to the demands of the GLC.

Fadi Abboud, president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, supports giving the workers their rights provided that the costs of production have been slashed.

Beirut 06-05-2008
The Daily Star

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