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Lebanon risks further power cuts due to strike: EDL

EDL workers protest in Beirut, Monday, Aug. 25, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: Electricite du Liban warned Thursday that the electricity rationing across the country could get worse if contract workers do not end their occupation of the company’s headquarters.

“Most of the equipment and cables are inside the headquarters of Electricite du Liban’s main building in Mar Mikhael which is currently occupied by the contract workers and part-time employees. This means that if some of the high voltage cables are damaged or one of the power plants malfunctions for some reason, we won’t be able to carry out the necessary repairs,” a senior official of the company told The Daily Star.

“We sent some our staff to collect some necessary equipment from the headquarters, but the rooms were locked by the striking part-time workers. They [the strikers] won’t let us access most of the rooms in the building and if this behavior continues then we won’t be able to pay the salaries of all of EDL staff,” the official warned.

Hundreds of contract workers pitched tents and locked most of the rooms in EDL’s headquarters to press the government to enroll all of the part-time employees in the company’s payroll with full benefits.

The 1,600 contract workers have vehemently rejected the offer by EDL’s management to undergo written and performance tests, after which the company would recruit only those who passed.

EDL argues that there are vacancies for 860 employees and that the part-time workers have previously agreed to these terms. It has offered the redundant staff two months salary for every year they worked with the company.

But contract workers have dismissed EDL’s offer to hire only some of the part-time workers as an arbitrary decision.

They say that it would be absurd to ask part-time technicians to undergo a performance test even though they have been making all the repairs for more than 10 years.

The strike and sit-ins have further exacerbated the already poor electricity situation in most regions as power rationing has exceeded 15 hours a day in some areas.

Before the occupation of EDL’s building, the same regions experienced 11 hours of electricity rationing this summer.

The company said it was compelled to increase electricity rationing due to the limited budget they received from the Cabinet and due to the presence of more than 1 million Syrian refugees who have added more pressure on the power plants.

Currently, Lebanon is producing 1,600 to 1,900 MW of electricity. The actual need is more than 2,500 MW.

“The strike will make matters even worse for EDL, which is plagued with numerous problems,” a source close to the company said. “To begin with, EDL’s deficit is more than $2 billion a year and this will probably grow if oil prices in the international markets increase.”

Former Energy and Water Minister Gebran Bassil signed several contracts with international companies to build new power plants and rehabilitate existing ones in a bid to increase production.

However, sources said that some of these projects were put on hold due to the shortage of funds, dealing a blow to efforts to boost electricity production by the end of this year.

One of the full-time employees said that the state-run EDL had only 1,900 employees on its payroll with full benefits, admitting that this number was not sufficient to cover all of Lebanon.

“Each year, 100 employees retire, and if this pattern continues over the next five years, the company will have a big shortage of staff. We definitely need more young and qualified staff because the average age of the full-time employees is 57,” the employee explained.

He added that successive governments have hired hundreds of part-time workers to fill the gaps in the company because there was no decision to offer full-time jobs under the pretext that money was very tight.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 29, 2014, on page 5.

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Summary

Electricite du Liban warned Thursday that the electricity rationing across the country could get worse if contract workers do not end their occupation of the company's headquarters.

The 1,600 contract workers have vehemently rejected the offer by EDL's management to undergo written and performance tests, after which the company would recruit only those who passed.

EDL argues that there are vacancies for 860 employees and that the part-time workers have previously agreed to these terms. It has offered the redundant staff two months salary for every year they worked with the company.

Before the occupation of EDL's building, the same regions experienced 11 hours of electricity rationing this summer.


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