May 03 2012
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Lebanon braces for GLC strike over fuel prices
03 May 2012
BEIRUT: Lebanon is braced for a general strike Thursday as several labor unions, including public taxi drivers and Middle East Airlines employees, pledged to take part in the action over high fuel prices.
The country’s public transport unions said they back the strike called for by General Labor Confederation, but postponed their own collective action until May 24.
“We decided to postpone the strike [previously scheduled for May 3] to May 24 to allow for further negotiations over fuel prices and National Social Security Fund benefits for drivers,” head of the public transportation unions, Abdel-Amir Najdeh told The Daily Star.
The union representing public taxi drivers later announced that it would participate in Thursday’s strike.
Similar statements were issued by unions representing workers at the Middle East Airlines, the NSSF, the directorate general of public transportation and various other sectors.
“We call on employees at the MEA and subsidiary companies to completely halt work from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.,” said a statement issued by the Union of MEA Employees. “The strike will also include the suspension of air traffic and all work at the airport.”
In an interview with The Daily Star, the head of the GLC Ghassan Ghosn said his union would not block roads or instigate protests on the strike day.
He said the strike would be a “cautionary action” and would be followed by gradual escalation if the government fails to reduce fuel prices.
Ghosn claimed the majority of labor unions have pledged to participate in the strike.
However, Maroun Khawly, head of the General Labor Confederation Union, a rival union, slammed the strike, suggesting the action is politically motivated.
“The strike Thursday offers the government a great service and aims at lessening popular frustration [in order to] save the Cabinet from being toppled by protests,” Khawly said in a statement issued Wednesday.
Assad Khoury, head of the Bank Employees Union, said his group would not call on employees to participate in the strike, but was nonetheless largely supportive of it.
He said bank employees might opt to halt work for few hours, adding the association would defend employees who decide to participate in the strike.
School teachers will not join the strike tomorrow. Representatives of teachers association said they have no confidence in Ghosn and the GLC because they had betrayed workers on many occasions.
Ghosn said that the GLC insists that the government place a price ceiling on gasoline at no more than LL30,000.
“Price ceilings were implemented successfully from 2002 to 2007 and the price of gasoline remained below LL23,000 in spite of international oil prices,” he said, slamming the excessive taxation on the commodity.
When asked if the Cabinet had promised the GLC to consider such a measure, he said his group was told that the government is currently considering various possible ways of reducing gasoline prices.
On Labor Day Tuesday, Ghosn warned the government against continuing what he described as policies aimed at impoverishing citizens.
“We ask you to unite and express your rejection of unjust policies of impoverishment, and participate in the general strike to defend the right to social justice and decent living,” Ghosn said after a meeting held at the GLC headquarters in Beirut.
Labor unions have been demanding a cap on gasoline prices, which broke an all-time record of LL40,000 last month, triggering a half-day strike by the public transportation sector. The prices of gasoline dropped for a second week in a row Wednesday, declining by LL700 for both its 98-octane and 95-octane varieties.© Copyright The Daily Star 2012.
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