BEIRUT: Labor leaders refused to drop their demands in response to the public electricity firm’s threat to sue them for blocking its facilities’ entrances and defaming its executives during two weeks of protests.
“In this cause, our ceiling is death,” said Lebnan Makhoul, one of three organizers identified in a statement issued by Electricite du Liban.
“When you put death as your ceiling, such events are reduced to mere details,” Makhoul said of the possible lawsuits.
The statement accused Makhoul, head of the workers’ union, along with Bilal Bajou and Ahmad Shoeib, referred to by their initials only, of “closing EDL’s doors, barring customers from entering, and defaming the institution’s board of directors.”
Bajou, Shoeib and Makhoul have on different occasions publicly attacked EDL head Kamal Hayek, accusing him of graft and fraud.
EDL’s administration had sent a letter to the State Prosecution office Tuesday, asking for security forces to intervene to end the contract workers’ protests in the firm’s buildings.
Shoeib echoed Makhoul, saying he would consider the lawsuit a “medal of honor,” that he got while defending “the poor workers against the violation of their rights.”
Stressing that he would pay with his life to ensure that “honorable workers” get their rights, Makhoul said he was not interested in EDL’s lawsuit since he “expected even worse decisions from such an administration.”
Protesting contract workers have been blocking employees from entering the buildings, and at times burning tires and blocking roads around the EDL headquarters in Mar Mikhael.
They are demanding full-time employment for each of the nearly 2,000 contract workers in line with a law passed by Parliament in April, but EDL has only agreed to hire 897.
Makhoul also took aim at the service providers that had been subcontracted by EDL and which currently employ the 2,000 contract workers, vowing to “overthrow” them.
“They are the obstacles in the way of us getting employed at EDL,” he said of the service providers.
The contract workers have been employed by private service providers since 2012, when firms were subcontracted to perform EDL’s technical services for a period of four years. Workers fear what will happen to them when these contracts expire in 2016, citing EDL’s history of unfair treatment, and are demanding to be hired immediately by the state electricity company as full-time employees.
“They are stealing the state’s treasury,” Makhoul said of the service providers. “Their services cost EDL five times what it used to cost before they were subcontracted.”
He called on the electricity company to take his accusations seriously and investigate the performance of the service providers.
Carla Aoun, the general manager of NEU, a Debbas group subsidiary carrying out work for EDL in south Lebanon and the southern part of Mount Lebanon, refuted Makhoul’s claims about the high costs.
“Such assumptions are based on nothing real,” she told The Daily Star. “The company delivers numerous types of services and the calculations of the cost should take into consideration all the work of the company and not only the services provided to customers.”
She explained that since the three service providers took responsibility of the sector, they have begun implementing reforms and renovations that EDL had needed for many years.
“Some residents had no electricity for 20 years,” she said specifically about southern villages. “Now, for the first time, they are getting normal voltage like other areas.”
EDL’s statement also mentioned legal “arrangements that need to be taken toward the service providers” based on the fact that the workers carrying out the protests are employees at these companies.
A top executive at EDL, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained to The Daily Star this item of the decision, saying the company’s executives were “merely doing their duty” regarding the law and the contracts with the service providers.
While Aoun understood why EDL would make such arrangements, she said it was unfair to take legal action against service providers, because the “conflict has been between the workers and EDL since before the service providers, and they will most probably last after the end of their contracts.”
But the EDL executive responded by saying that the workers “are doing their vandalism during their work schedules at the service providers, which means the latter have to take responsibility for the consequences.”
While the workers are afraid that there destiny will again be unknown after the end of the service providers’ contracts, the executive said they should not be worried about that.
“They will all take the exam of the Civil Service Council. [Some] 897 of those who pass will be employed by EDL now, and the remainder will continue working with the service providers until the contracts end.”
“Then, if the service providers’ contracts are renewed, they will keep their current jobs. If they are broken, EDL will need them to work inside the company, and thus will recruit them.”