BEIRUT: Electricite Du Liban workers announced an open strike Thursday amid widespread deterioration in power supply as failures remained unrepaired across the country, plunging many parts of the country, including the capital, into darkness.
“We have decided to uphold the strike indefinitely covering all departments of EDL including fuel deliveries for power stations,” the statement said.
Charbel Abi Saleh, head of the EDL workers association, told The Daily Star that several small power plants in Baalbek, Qadisha and other areas would shut down within the next 24 hours, because of lack of fuel.
He added that larger plants would gradually go out of service if no deal was reached during this week.
A failure on a high-voltage cable halted power supply to many neighborhoods in Beirut and its suburbs, said the state-run electricity company in a statement.
“At 21:15 Wednesday night, a failure occurred on the 220 KW cable connecting two electric substations in Aramoun [Shouf District] and Hourj [Beirut] resulting in a power cut affecting a large part of administrative Beirut, the southern suburbs, and Metn coast,” a statement by EDL said.
The EDL workers association said in their statements that they would not conduct any repairs on the vital cable, adding they would only isolate networks that could present a threat to public safety.
Three private service providers, contracted by EDL to manage electricity distribution, repairs and bill collection, said in a separate statement the striking workers were hindering their efforts to conduct repairs.
“EDL employees are not isolating the networks, where major failures happen”, a joint statement by the three companies said.
The EDL employees are not participating in testing needed to pinpoint failures on the network, it added.
EDL said the company has been in negotiations with the Finance Ministry to reach a settlement.
“We have repeatedly said that we stand by our workers and we are liaising with officials to secure their rightful demands,” the statement said, adding that it had earlier sent an official letter on the subject to the Finance Ministry.
But a spokesperson for EDL told the paper that the Finance Ministry had rejected in an official letter EDL’s demand to reconsider the budget cuts.
A Finance Ministry source told The Daily Star that the strike was baseless, given that the ministry had already withdrawn the 2013 EDL budget and was working on a new one:
“We are looking into the issue but, if there are no valid reasons, the budget cuts will not be reversed.”
The source reiterated the ministry’s earlier view that it had no right to negotiate directly with workers, who are under the authority of EDL and the Energy Ministry.
Abi Saleh said the overwhelming majority of EDL workers were observing the strike, adding that the failure of the Finance Ministry to reverse the cuts would only make things worse.
“I urge Minister Mohammad Safadi to look into the bonuses and allowances of his own ministry before slashing our worker’s benefits,” he said.
“We are not yielding to any pressure and the strike will go on until our demands are met,” Abi Saleh added.