BEIRUT: Electricite Du Liban contract workers Thursday asked the company’s management to hold direct talks with them to resolve the weeklong standoff, hours after EDL Chairman Kamal Hayek warned of a nationwide electricity crisis because of the ongoing protests.
Protesters are demanding full-time status at the state-run electricity company for all of the approximately 1,600 contract workers.
Hayek, along with dozens of EDL employees, headed to the EDL headquarters in Mar Mikhael in line with the company’s recent decision to resume work, but contract workers once again prevented anyone from entering the premises.
Hundreds of policemen stood guard, with orders to act as a disengagement force between part-time and full-time electricity workers.
A security source told The Daily Star police had orders to refrain from using force to open EDL’s doors, sealed by protesters for several weeks.
Describing the situation at EDL as “paralyzing,” Hayek sounded the alarm over work disruptions at the company. “We are now forced to delay the collection of fees from citizens because of the disruptions, and the accumulated bills will certainly be higher,” the chairman told reporters outside the headquarters. “Electricite Du Liban has become hostage to the [workers], and I am referring this case to the Cabinet and ministers.”
Hayek also warned that the protests could extend to other public sectors that employ contract workers.
Minutes later, the Contract Workers’ Committee said it was ready to launch a dialogue with Hayek to put an end to the crisis.
“It is unfortunate the way things have spiraled out of control and the remarks by Chairman Kamal Hayek ... blaming us for delays in bill collections,” a spokesman for the committee said. “But we have never stopped working since the first day of the protest.”
“We call for a calm dialogue between the contractors and the company, and we are open to any suggestion that would end this crisis and give the workers their rights ... without any restraint or condition.”
EDL has asked security forces to secure the entry of the employees into the building and other branches in the country to allow them to do their job. It also said the company had handed over custody of the building to security agencies.
The company called on its employees to report for duty Thursday and begin network repairs needed to address severe electricity rationing in the country.
In a statement after a meeting of the EDL board Wednesday, the company said that the directors “unanimously agreed on the need for employees to return to the headquarters, all of its branches to resume work, the safety of investments to be preserved and needed repairs to be carried out on the network.”
The meeting was held at the Zouk Mikael Power Plant instead of the EDL headquarters in Beirut, after striking contract workers prevented full-time employees from entering the premises by sealing off the entrances.
With the contract workers’ open-ended strike and the inability of maintenance teams to access equipment inside the company, the country has witnessed severe electricity rationing, prompting residents in Beirut’s southern suburbs to burn tires and block roads in protest.