Lebanese central bank workers lift strike until Friday
BEIRUT - Lebanese central bank workers decided to suspend a strike until Friday when they will meet to decide whether to halt or resume the walkout, their syndicate chief said.
They walked out on Monday over government budget proposals that would cut their benefits, part of a wave of industrial action and protests ignited by fears of plans for big spending cuts by the heavily indebted state.
The strike led to a suspension of trade on the Beirut Stock Exchange for a second day on Tuesday because the transaction clearance and settlement process could not be completed on time.
Abbas Awada, head of the central bank workers' syndicate, said the strike could be cancelled before Friday if articles in the draft budget that concern them were annulled or an exemption given to the central bank.
Saddled with one of the world's heaviest public debt burdens, the Lebanese government is debating a draft 2019 budget which Prime Minister Saad Hariri has said might be the most austere in the country's history.
Hariri, in a late night news conference on Monday after a meeting with the president and parliament speaker, said failure to pass a "realistic" budget would be like a "suicide operation" against the economy.
Hariri said he expected a resolution of the dispute at the central bank on Tuesday but criticised a wave of "pre-emptive" strike action over the draft austerity budget. He said the government was taking measures to avoid economic collapse.
The public sector wage bill is the state's biggest expense, followed by the cost of servicing the public debt. Army retirees have been among the opponents of the draft budget, which they fear may target some of their benefits.
Hariri also said Lebanon was "far from bankruptcy" and though the country could not continue in this situation this did not "mean we will collapse tomorrow."