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Hayek, contract workers spar as EDL protests escalate

Contract workers set up tents in the vicinity of the EDL building in Beirut, Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. (The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Electricite du Liban’s administration and contract workers traded barbs in their ongoing dispute over the laborers’ employment status in opposing news conferences Thursday.

Electricite du Liban’s Board of Directors Chair Kamal Hayek insisted that the company would not submit to the protests of the workers, calling on police to intervene and protect EDL employees.

“Electricite du Liban has the absolute right to determine its need for employees,” Hayek said in a news conference at noon, quoting a law passed by the Parliament in April.

According to Hayek, the law requires that new employees be selected based on an entrance exam.

Stressing that “any negotiations would only be held from the EDL offices,” he threatened the private service providers with prosecution because their employees were closing EDL facilities.

The contract workers have been working with private service providers since 2012, when the private entities were subcontracted to perform EDL’s technical services for four years.

Contract workers have been holding protests at EDL offices for several days, preventing employees from entering the buildings. They are demanding full-time employment at EDL for all of the nearly 2,000 workers, while EDL has only agreed to hire 897. In an escalatory move, contract workers erected tents inside EDL headquarters Thursday.

Hayek said that before proceeding with its decision, EDL had consulted the Civil Service Board, which backed the company’s decision to limit the number of workers it hired based on its needs.

“Regardless of what is happening, we will only adhere to the words of the Civil Service Board,” he stressed.

Hayek said that not all of the workers were eligible to attend the entrance exam.

“Those above 56 years of age or who have any criminal records cannot participate in the exam,” he said. “There are many who have other jobs with higher priority and might not have the intention to get a full-time job at EDL.”

Hayek, who held a news conference at the Zouk Power Plant because he couldn’t reach EDL headquarters, called on the police to intervene and break up the protests to ensure the firm’s employees could reach their offices.

“To the Internal Security Forces we say: The law punishes anyone who blocks a public facility,” he said. “The state should protect the employees’ entrance to their institution.”

He called on the contract workers to find “more civilized ways” of carrying out their protests.

“Protesting administrative decisions shall not be through blocking entrances and burning tires,” he said, while reminding contract workers that the executives they were defaming would be their bosses once they were employed at EDL.

Immediately after Hayek finished his news conference, the contract workers held their own, accusing the executive of mismanagement, corruption and fraud.

“What does it mean to keep this administration that has resulted in so much deterioration for the sector for more than 15 years?” asked Ahmad Shoeib, spokesman for the workers’ union.

He accused Hayek of planning to increase the electricity prices in order to cover the “failure and corruption” at EDL.

The workers said that EDL’s partnership with private service providers had cost the electricity sector huge amounts of money, while the services provided to citizens had deteriorated.

Lubnan Makhoul, the union chief, accused EDL of not monitoring the performance of private service providers, saying it was paying the firms despite their inefficiency.

Makhoul said that the head of one of the private service providers announced in a TV interview that the electricity sector lost 40 percent of production to waste on its network.

“The purpose behind subcontracting the private service providers is supposedly to reduce the waste,” Makhoul said.

“So why don’t you, dear Mr. Hayek, ask this company head why the waste was not reduced yet?”

Contradicting Hayek’s mention of a “technical and scientific study” conducted by EDL and approved by its 10 executives, Makhoul asked Hayek why the company dismissed other studies by the heads of local constituencies who found that the number of employees needed was much higher than 897.

Makhoul denied that the calls were for the employment of all workers.

“This is not true; we are simply calling for the employment of workers who have the right to be hired,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 15, 2014, on page 2.

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Summary

Electricite du Liban's administration and contract workers traded barbs in their ongoing dispute over the laborers' employment status in opposing news conferences Thursday.

Electricite du Liban's Board of Directors Chair Kamal Hayek insisted that the company would not submit to the protests of the workers, calling on police to intervene and protect EDL employees.

Contract workers have been holding protests at EDL offices for several days, preventing employees from entering the buildings. They are demanding full-time employment at EDL for all of the nearly 2,000 workers, while EDL has only agreed to hire 897 .

Hayek said that not all of the workers were eligible to attend the entrance exam.

Contradicting Hayek's mention of a "technical and scientific study" conducted by EDL and approved by its 10 executives, Makhoul asked Hayek why the company dismissed other studies by the heads of local constituencies who found that the number of employees needed was much higher than 897 .


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