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EDL protesters defiant despite crackdown

Security forces prevent protesters from holding a sit-in inside the Electricite du Liban branch in Sidon, Monday, August 18, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

SIDON: Contract workers from Electricite du Liban Monday defied attempts to end their protest against the company, vowing to continue until signs of goodwill emerged.

Speaking outside EDL headquarters in the Beirut neighborhood of Mar Mikhael, a member of the Contract Workers Committee urged officials to reconsider EDL’s decision to hire just 897 out of the almost 2,000 workers.

“During the meeting today, we submitted a legal review of the situation of workers to the Civil Service Council and the dynamics of the company’s work so that the council could re-evaluate [EDL Chairman] Kamal Hayek’s decision,” he said.

He called the meeting "positive" and expressed hope that the council would study their review, saying the council representative had promised to look into the matter.

However, he also warned that the workers would continue observe the strike and participate in the sit-ins “until we see some signs of goodwill or positive gestures toward us.”

Energy Minister Arthur Nazarian and Hayek held talks with Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail on the issue of the EDL employees Monday afternoon.

Speaking after the meeting, both Nazarian and Hayek rejected the manner in which the contract workers have carried out their protests.

"We briefed the prime minister about the situation with EDL. We object to the way things are happening because there is a practical way of protesting, not by shutting down the company and blocking roads,” the minister said.

While slamming contract workers for disrupting the work of the company, Hayek said he was merely applying the law.

"We are applying the law and what the Council for Civil Service asked us to do," Hayek said.

The law, approved by Parliament earlier this year, requested that EDL identify vacancies and the company's needs in a bid to resolve the working status of contract workers accordingly.

Earlier Monday, security forces deployed heavily around the EDL branches in Tyre and Sidon, preventing contract workers from protesting and detaining two of them in a standoff.

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

They have been carrying out protests at all EDL offices, preventing employees from entering the buildings. The contract workers are demanding full-time employment at EDL for each of the close to 2,000 workers, while EDL has only agreed to hire 897.

In the southern town of Tyre, members of the Internal Security Forces entered the courtyard of the EDL complex, forced protesters out of the building and prevented them from erecting tents.

The ISF allowed EDL employees to enter the building but stopped contract workers from burning tires to block the road outside the facility.

During a minor scuffle with the protesters, police detained two people, one who attempted to self-mutilate in protest and another who tried to set tires on fire. The former was identified as Amer Youssef while the latter was Malek Jaber, both EDL contract workers, a security source told The Daily Star.

In the coastal city of Sidon, police also deployed inside the EDL building and would not allow protesters to hold a sit-in, while the committee of contract workers vowed to block a vital Beirut highway to demand the release of the two detainees.

Last week, EDL workers blocked Charles Helou Highway in Beirut, causing an hourslong traffic jam, over what they claim was a breach in the agreement they had reached with officials to settle their working status.

Surrounded by fellow workers, a member of the committee said the number of employees requested by EDL to fill vacancies “did not meet the demands of the company.”

“We are not beggars and this is not a charitable issue, we have rights that we need back,” he said.

 

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Summary

Contract workers from Electricite du Liban Monday defied attempts to end their protest against the company, vowing to continue until signs of goodwill emerged.

Speaking outside EDL headquarters in the Beirut neighborhood of Mar Mikhael, a member of the Contract Workers Committee urged officials to reconsider EDL's decision to hire just 897 out of the almost 2,000 workers.

While slamming contract workers for disrupting the work of the company, Hayek said he was merely applying the law.

The law, approved by Parliament earlier this year, requested that EDL identify vacancies and the company's needs in a bid to resolve the working status of contract workers accordingly.

The contract workers are demanding full-time employment at EDL for each of the close to 2,000 workers, while EDL has only agreed to hire 897 .


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