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The Cabinet has approved the amount of 880 billion Lebanese pounds for salary increases over the next three months for employees of Ogero, Lebanon’s public telecommunications and internet provider. While trying to remain optimistic, the employees’ union maintains its deadline of April 15 for the government to meet all of its demands.

As previously announced by the caretaker Minister of Telecommunications, Johnny Corm, the issue of salary increases for Ogero employees was discussed during Thursday’s Cabinet meeting. “The amount of 880 billion Lebanese pounds has been allocated for the forthcoming three months as part of the salary increase, pending the submission of a request to Parliament for additional credit,” Corm said to This Is Beirut.

The sum of 880 billion Lebanese pounds, equivalent to roughly 98 million dollars, is the amount that the government needs to provide to fund these salaries. “The amount would normally be drawn from the state reserves. But since these reserves are dwindling, we’ll seek additional credit from Parliament,” Corm clarified.

One wonders why the government did not take this increase into account in its 2024 budget, which was approved in January by Parliament. The caretaker Minister of Telecommunications believes that “there’s a discrepancy between the calculations made by the Ministry of Finance and Ogero’s calculations, as the Ministry overlooked the law on increase and remuneration specific to Ogero, which has been in force since 1994.” It’s an oversight, as Corm points out, but one that significantly impacts both the sector and its employees.

While Lebanon has been experiencing an unprecedented multidimensional crisis since 2019, public services, especially the telecommunications sector, have been severely affected with no solution in sight. And yet, structural reforms, mainly the implementation of a coherent budgetary strategy, are crucial for the state to stay afloat.

The Union Tries to Remain Positive

Emilie Nassar, president of the Ogero employees’ union, who was contacted by This Is Beirut, tries to remain “positive and optimistic.” “However, we are waiting for written and signed tangible commitments; so far all we’ve received is empty promises,” she explained. Nassar emphasized that the April 15 deadline, set for the government to address their concerns, is still standing.

Ogero’s employees staged a warning strike on Wednesday, April 3, and Thursday, April 4, following a previous strike last week, regarding their salary demands. All centers and offices were closed, with maintenance and repair work suspended. The union has given the government “until April 15 to fulfill all of its demands indiscriminately.”

The union is calling for salaries that match the economic situation and denounces the employees’ dire working conditions. Its key demands also include benefit upgrades and adjustments to reflect the new dollar exchange rate, as the employees’ current salaries amount to a fraction of their pre-crisis value amidst the Lebanese pound devaluation. Even the raise secured last year, following the open strike on March 24, 2023, was scrapped from the 2024 budget.