BEIRUT: Electricite Du Liban warned Tuesday of major technical problems should the company’s National Control Center (NCC) remain “occupied” by contract workers, a day after the company warned that the country could plunge into total darkness if strike action by the workers continued.
“We do not intend to cut off electricity from citizens ... but we are working in a very risky situation that could create a big technical problem,” EDL Director-General Kamal Hayek told reporters at the Zouk Power plant, north of Beirut.
Hayek added that the state-run company would exert efforts “to maintain stability inside the National Control Center.”
For their part, the committee of EDL contract workers said they would continue with their strike until their demands are met and asked the public to support their just case.
Contract workers and bill collectors, who have been on a three-month strike, prevented employees Monday from entering the main headquarters of EDL in Beirut. NCC staff, who deal with coordinating power rationing across the country, were among those to be barred from entering the premises.
In a statement Monday, EDL described the move by the contract workers as an “occupation” of the company.
Hayek said Tuesday that the “occupation” of the control room posed a threat to national security.
Hayek’s warnings were in stark contrast to those of ministers earlier in the day.
Ahead of Cabinet at Baabda Palace, Interior Minister Marwan Charbel voiced confidence that the issue of the contract workers, who are seeking full-time employment at EDL and want their June salaries paid, would be resolved.
“It’s over. It’s over,” Charbel told reporters on whether intensive negotiations to resolve the EDL crisis had bore any fruit.
Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, who is also Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's aide, was not as bold.
The EDL crisis is “headed toward a solution,” he told reporters at the Presidential Palace, where ministers gathered to continue debate on a draft electoral law.
The general director has previously warned of a total blackout due to the strike action.
The strikers have regularly prevented maintenance workers from leaving the EDL premises and have boycotted the collection of bills.
During the news conference Tuesday, Hayek said that the company’s headquarters in Mar Mikhael contained important files and folders, as well as bills worth billions of liras, and regarded them as being under the guardianship of security forces.
Addressing the contract workers who set fire to tires inside the building’s premises Monday, Hayek said that the solution to their employment status resided in Parliament and not EDL.
The workers are demanding the implementation of a draft law endorsed by Parliament earlier this month but which has faced opposition from Christian parties who argue that employing over 2,000 Muslim workers would tip the sectarian balance at a public institution.
The workers are also demanding that their June salaries be paid by EDL.
Hayek said that EDL could not pay the salaries of the workers because their contracts with EDL had expired.
“Until the security situation is restored ... we are unable to go back to our offices, centers and resume our daily work that is necessary to providing electricity,” the director general said.
Commenting on the issue of the contract workers, head of the General Labor Confederation Ghassan Ghosn, who began negotiations with contract workers Monday to seek an end to the impasse, said serious efforts were under way to resolve the issue.
“Efforts are under way by all parties along with the General Labor Confederation to reach a solution,” Ghosn told The Daily Star.
Ghosn said the solution to the impasse was simple: that contract workers be employed as per the draft law endorsed by Parliament.
He also said that the reason for the current deadlock was a dispute over whether EDL should be privatized, saying that his labor union had opposed this idea on several occasions.
“The aim of the dispute over contract workers is to eliminate Electricite Du Liban and replace it with a private institution ... we will not allow this to happen,” Ghosn said.
“We are here to preserve EDL,” he added.