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Budget strike paralyzes state institutions.

Summary: A three-day strike led by the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers began Thursday, amid growing fears that the 2019 draft state budget would adversely affect public sector workers.

BEIRUT: A three-day strike led by the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers began Thursday, amid growing fears that the 2019 draft state budget would adversely affect public sector workers. "Today is the start of an outcry," GCLW President Bechara Asmar said after a meeting with Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil and Labor Minister Camille Abousleiman.

National institutions including Electricite du Liban, the National Social Security Fund, the Regie Libanaise des Tabacs et Tombacs, Ogero, the Litani River Authority and various water establishments completely closed down their operations as part of the strike.

"We are not fans of cutting off streets and striking. Our workers are the ones who are affected by the strikes," Asmar added, according to a Finance Ministry statement.

Asmar stressed the importance of discussions at the "governmental level" and praised Abousleiman's call for dialogue, "which is the only thing we demand as a workers' movement in light of a reform budget of this scale."

"[Abousleiman] has proposed a very developed point of view, and there may be points of common ground between the Finance Ministry and between us," he said.

Cabinet is expected to meet daily, at least till the weekend, until the draft budget is endorsed and referred to Parliament, as public sector workers close public institutions and independent businesses in protest against proposed cuts.

The Lebanese Communist Party erected tents in Riad al-Solh Square, outside the Grand Serail where Cabinet was meeting, in solidarity with striking workers. "The nation is for the workers. Down with capitalism," a large banner read.

Ships continued to leave and enter Beirut Port Thursday, but inspection of goods stopped as employees of the port's administration refused to come to work, according to the state-run National News Agency.

The Bekaa Water Establishment was one water provider that entirely closed its operations, in line with demands from the GCLW.

"Annual leave is an acquired right for workers which must not be reduced, considering that we are committed to increasing our weekly work by three hours, or 160 hours per year, without remuneration," a statement from the workers of the Bekaa Water Establishment read.

According to a leaked copy of the draft budget, ministers plan to cut paid leave days from 20 to 15 days per year. The establishment called on the finance minister to "delete any item in the 2019 draft state budget related to public institutional investors that has a negative impact on workers and their productivity."

"[We appeal to] the country's three top officials to intervene by correcting injustices against [state institutions] and protecting laws and public organizations," the statement said.

"As water workers we have full confidence in your leadership. ... We urge our colleagues to continue striking Friday. If the government does not respond by canceling all of the articles concerning us, there will be a general meeting Monday, May 6," the statement added.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:May 3, 2019
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