BEIRUT: The committee of Electricite du Liban contract workers announced Sunday that a new round of talks with officials would begin this week. However, a protest Monday by workers was set to go ahead as planned as EDL moved to resume bill collection for the first times in months.
Ahmad Shoueib, a member of the contract workers’ committee, told The Daily Star that a new initiative by the Labor Federation had given them hope that the issue would be resolved through negotiations and that the ongoing standoff over full-time employment at EDL would come to an end.
Shoueib, who had harsh words for EDL and Energy Minister Gebran Bassil of the Free Patriotic Movement last week, sounded more optimistic about the upcoming talks. “Labor Federation head Ghassan Ghosn and we [contract workers] will hold talks with Bassil this week,” he said.
A number of areas in the capital witnessed several days of blackouts in recent weeks, a development that increased the pressure on the ministry and striking workers alike.
Bill collection has been on hold for the past five months in many parts of Lebanon, and the standoff between the striking contract workers and the EDL administration supported by Bassil has exacerbated electricity problems across the country.
EDL announced last week that Monday it would begin sending out bill collectors escorted by police and would also begin repairs.
In response, the striking contract workers, who have engaged in almost daily quarrels with staff at EDL’s headquarters, planned a demonstration Monday.
Contract workers argue that neither repairs nor bill collection would be successful without their help.
“EDL says they will start collection of bills, but the truth is they neither have all the bills printed nor the capacity to go out and start collecting them,” said Shoueib.
Shoueib also argued that EDL could not continue collections without having the bills for all regions in the country. “Even if they have the staff to send out for bill collection, they cannot collect in some parts of Lebanon while other parts won’t pay,” he added.
According to Shoueib, Monday’s demonstration would be another peaceful protest by the contract workers demanding their employment rights.
In response to a question on whether there could be showdown Monday, Shoueib replied: “I don’t understand why there would be any confrontations or riots during the protest ... We have called for all contract workers from Lebanon to join us tomorrow for a peaceful demonstration.”
Relations between allies Hezbollah and FPM have deteriorated in the face of the standoff over the full-time employment of some 2,000 contract workers at the EDL.
Unlike the FPM and Christian parties in the March 14 coalition, March 8’s Hezbollah and Amal Movement voted in support of a draft law in the Parliament to make contract workers full-time employment.