Central Bank employees join other strikers over budget austerity proposals

Lebanon's debt is over 150 percent of GDP, with a large amount of the budget going to debt servicing.
by TK Maloy

4 May 2019 | 15:54

Source: by Annahar

  • by TK Maloy
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 4 May 2019 | 15:54

This photo shows Lebanon's Central Bank. (AFP Photo)

BEIRUT: Adding to the worker and pensioner strikes roiling the capital in the face of a proposed austerity budget by officials, the Central Bank workers have now also declared a general strike.

Though it began before the weekend, a source at the Bank said that workers still showed up at their desk on Friday out of professional devotion.

The source, noted that like any other Lebanese, BDL employees had housing, car, generator, child care, and other bills to meet and that any serious cut to their pay would make many of the workers unable to meet their bills.

Also, other than the usual one-off indemnity payment, the BDL staff don't have a pension, and any wage cuts would harm their ability to save for retirement.

According to Lebanese laws, the Central Bank is an independent entity paying its own bills in terms of salary and other costs; and like any other institution, they are feeling the bite of a failing economy, its employees say.

In the last year, the Central Bank's staff has also had their health insurance partially reduced.

A memo from the BDL staff Syndicate obtained by Annahar said any proposed cuts were a "violation to their rights.."

The employees of the Lebanese Central Bank's Syndicate also said in a statement all the employees of the Central Bank's branches attended an assembly in the main building in Beirut on May 4th and adopted the declaration of the open strike. And they "condemned the fierce attack against the Bank and its employees, which is against the local and international laws".

In its statement, the syndicate "held the authorities responsible for the paralysis that will affect the labor movement in the country, which is in full coordination with the General Labor Union and all trade unions affected by the actions intended to be implemented that deprive them of their rights."

The employee syndicate added on Saturday that the open-ended strike was in place until government budget makers reversed any tentative "unfair" decisions.

The syndicate said in its statement, that it would take action to the "fullest extent" in order to stop any proposed cuts.

Some observers have noted that the overall political chess game is to bring the Central Bank under the control of the Ministry of Finance even further making it a piggy bank for the government; Annahar has been unable to confirm this.

The Federal government of Lebanon is effectively broke.

Street protest are slated to grow.

Just this week, Military pensioners also marched, blocking the Port of Beirut and the Central Bank entrances in protest to proposed pension cuts. 

Tuesday, the General Confederation of Lebanese Workers, one the larger union organizations in the country declared a strike with allied civil servant unions also going on strike Thursday through Saturday.

The strike by the Confederation of Lebanese Workers and other unions is taking place throughout the country, though there have been no reports of unrest or violence thus far.

Lebanon's debt is over 150 percent of GDP, with a large amount of the budget going to debt servicing.

All this week, through to Sunday, officials are meeting on possible radical austerity measures to the Lebanese budget.

Prime Minister Saad Hariri said earlier this month that "we must reduce public spending to avoid a crisis," while Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil predicted a deficit of less than 9 percent of GDP compared to 11 percent in 2018 if certain measures are implemented.

The deficit is distinct from the debt.

Both officials warned of "wide reductions" and harsh austerity measures, the likes of which have never been seen across Lebanon's history.

Some of the measures include a 50 percent reduction in the salaries and allowances of MPs, ministers, and the President, as well as an undetermined reduction in the salaries of their retired colleagues.

A three-year civil service hiring-suspension is also on the books, with employment to resume at a rate of half the number of those who retired during that period.

Other measures include a reduction of the annual paid leave from 20 to 15 days, a three percent cut to the pensions of retired military personnel including cuts to medical and social aid, the abolishment of early retirements, and a cap on other forms of compensation and the suspension of additional salaries.

A large upcoming protest is planned of unemployed Lebanese.

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Georgi Azar contributed to this article.

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