Lebanon News

Protesting EDL contract workers defiant in face of ISF action

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

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

Security forces deployed heavily around the EDL branches in Tyre and Sidon, preventing contract workers from protesting and briefly detaining two of them.

The contract workers have been carrying out protests over the past week at all EDL offices, preventing employees from entering the buildings. They are demanding full-time employment at EDL for each of the nearly 2,000 workers in line with a law passed by Parliament in April, but EDL has only agreed to hire 897.

Members of the Internal Security Forces entered the courtyard of the EDL complex in Tyre, forcing protesters out of the building and preventing them from erecting tents.

The ISF allowed EDL full-time 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 of whom attempted to self-immolate in protest and another who tried to set tires on fire. They were identified as Amer Youssef and Malek Jaber, both EDL contract workers, a security source told The Daily Star.

The Committee of EDL Contract Workers vowed to block a vital Beirut highway to demand the release of the two detainees. The two were released hours later.

In Sidon, police also deployed inside the EDL building and did not allow protesters to hold a sit-in.

In Beirut, members of the committee presented their demands to Fatima Oweidat, the head of the Civil Service Board.

“During the meeting today, we submitted a legal review of the situation of workers to the Civil Service Board and the dynamics of the company’s work so that the council could re-evaluate [EDL Chairman] Kamal Hayek’s decision,” Ahmad Shuaib, a member of the committee, told reporters after the meeting.

Speaking outside EDL headquarters in the Beirut neighborhood of Mar Mikhael, Shuaib called the meeting “positive” and expressed hope that the board would study their review, saying the council representative had promised to look into the matter.

Contract workers argue that EDL is in need of many more than the 897 workers it decided to make full-timers, a claim disputed by EDL.

Shuaib warned that the workers would continue to observe the strike and participate in the sit-ins “until we see some signs of goodwill or positive gestures toward us.” Last week, EDL workers blocked Charles Helou Highway in Beirut, causing an hours-long traffic jam.

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

Speaking after the meeting, both Nazarian and Hayek rejected the manner in which the contract workers had 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,” said Nazarian, who is close to Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.

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

“We are applying the law and what the Civil Service Board asked us to do,” Hayek said.

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

KVA, one of the private service providers, said in a statement Monday that it had nothing to do with the current dispute between EDL and contract workers.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 19, 2014, on page 3.




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