BEIRUT: Protesting Electricite du Liban contract workers briefly disrupted two-way traffic by demonstrating on Charles Helou Avenue and other regions Monday morning.
Having failed to keep the entrance to EDL head offices in Mar Mikhael blocked due to the intervention of the Internal Security Forces, the protesters moved to the nearby highway.
They also gathered at the Debbas building, designated as one of three firms contract workers will work for instead of being hired full-time by EDL.
The three companies said in a press statement Monday that EDL contract workers would need to come to their offices this week in order to sign their job contracts.
The companies will start paying workers who sign the contract their salaries for May, the statement added.
Earlier, contract workers gathered at EDL premises, where some of them engaged in a shouting match with members of the ISF, who opened the gates they had shut as part of their protest.
Protesters chanted slogans against Energy Minister Gebran Bassil, whom many blame for their plight.
They also denounced what they consider an attempt to insert sectarianism into their cause, in reference to Christian parties’ concerns that if the EDL makes all its contract workers full-time employees, Christians will be underrepresented.
The Energy Ministry’s recent decision to transfer the contract workers to three private-sector companies triggered the nationwide protests which began in June.
Disputes between March 8 factions erupted when Parliament approved draft legislation Monday that would allow EDL contract workers to be full-time employees.
The rift involves MP Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement on one side, and Hezbollah and the Amal Movement on the other.
MPs from the Future bloc, Amal and Hezbollah teamed up to support the law. However, when Speaker Nabih Berri put the law to a vote, it was unclear who was with or against it, as no tally had been taken.
Christian MPs from both the March 8 and March 14 camps have strongly opposed the EDL contract workers law, claiming that it would lead to the underrepresentation of Christians in the public sector.
EDL’s part-time workers are also demanding full-time employment in the company and want comprehensive social and medical benefits.
According to EDL sources, there are about 2,500 part-time bill collectors and contract workers who mainly carry out maintenance work on the company’s power station.
The contract workers claim that the service providers plan to hire not more than 700 in the first phase and another 300 in the second phase.
EDL’s management says the service providers have contracts with the state to run some of the operations, and for this reason all of the part-time workers must cooperate with these firms.
Bassil has said on many occasions that the service providers cannot accommodate all of the part-time workers because this would cost the treasury close to $100 million a year.
EDL’s sources say that most of the part-time workers are above 56 years old and they may not be fit to carry out certain tasks such as repairs and maintenance work at the power plants.
There are also unconfirmed reports that some of the part-timers have fake school certificates.