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EDL full-time workers to strike over attack on senior employee

  • The headquarters of Electricite Du Liban in Beirut, Lebanon. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Electricite du Liban full-time workers will go on strike Wednesday to protest against Tuesday’s storming of a senior employee’s office by striking contract workers. The full-time employees’ strike will see work suspended at the company’s offices for the day, but operations at power plants will continue as usual.

“Some contract workers stormed the office of the head of the finance department and cursed at her,” a statement by EDL said. “This behavior is unacceptable, and for this reason we call on all the staff to observe a one-day strike Wednesday.”

EDL contract workers stepped up their protest Monday by closing the doors of the state-run company in Beirut and preventing maintenance teams from leaving the premises.The workers, who have been on strike for nearly three months demanding full-time employment and are currently calling on the government to pay their salaries for the same period, also occupied the reception area on the ground floor of the building.

Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil told a news conference Tuesday that 400 part-time and contract workers had signed new contracts with service providers but noted that most of these people had refused to be identified because they feared for their lives.

“Some of the contract workers did not want their pictures taken by the press because they feel their lives are under threat,” Bassil said.

The minister reiterated that he was willing to sit with the part-time workers in order to reach an agreement, provided that they end their occupation of EDL’s headquarters.

EDL has repeatedly said the strike by some 2,500 contract workers has crippled its operations, with most maintenance work and bill collections having ground to a halt.

There was hope earlier this month that the strike could come to an end after Parliament endorsed a bill to employ the contract workers full time.

Christian parties have objected to the law, arguing that employing contract workers with the state-run EDL without a proper mechanism would cause a sectarian imbalance in the public sector.

The draft legislation is awaiting approval by Parliament’s Secretariat.

However, the media reported that Hezbollah and some March 8 factions were trying to reach a compromise between House Speaker Nabih Berri and leader of the Free Patriotic Movement Michel Aoun on the issue of EDL’s part-timers.

Sources said Aoun insisted that the striking workers end their occupation of EDL’s headquarters before negotiating any deal with Berri.

The service providers that have contracts with EDL to carry out certain tasks stress that they are willing to accommodate most of the part-time workers provided they pass a test.

But most of the part-time workers fear that their contracts with the service providers may end once these firms’ contracts with EDL expire in the next five years.

EDL claims that the open-ended strike has dealt a severe blow to the electricity sector as evidenced by rising power rationing.

Bassil has warned that if the government caves in to the demands of the part-time workers, other civil servants and contract employees in other public departments may be emboldened to adopt similar actions in the future.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 25, 2012, on page 5.
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