Lebanon: EDL contract workers demand salaries after 4-month suspension

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A protester waves a Lebanese flag in front of the Electricité du Liban (EDL) headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon in August 2012. Al-Akhbar / Marwan Tahtah

Published Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Electricité du Liban (EDL) employees (former contract workers) who have been occupying EDL’s main building in Mar Mikhael for four month in a row, began to ramp up the pressure yesterday.

On Tuesday November 18, the workers, protesting the suspended salaries of striking employees, blocked a road near National Electrical Utility Company (NEUC), a subsidiary of Dabbas Group, at Corniche al-Nahr, and burned tires.

In a statement, NEUC said it was not concerned with the strike of former contract workers and bill collectors, which has been going on since August 9. The company justified its position, “because [the matter] resulted from a dispute between [the workers] and EDL, hence it is a strike against EDL and not [NEUC].”

“The strike, which has crippled EDL, has also hindered most of the company’s services, mainly bill collection. Therefore, EDL stopped paying its dues to the company until bill collection resumes,” the statement further said.

“After work in both the company and EDL returns to normal, [we] will resume paying salaries in virtue of the laws and regulations in force,” it added.

A number of employees also set up a protest tent in front of Dabbas Group’s headquarters and raised the slogan, “Down with the company,” while chanting in support of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

The protesting employees insisted that “they want full-time positions at EDL” and accused Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil of fighting against them, claiming, “[The minister] instructed Dabbas Group not to pay our salaries, while KVA [a consortium of three companies that manage public utilities in the region] proved it has a successful management team because it paid its employees.”

For his part, head of the contract workers committee, Loubnan Makhoul, said, “Our goal is to receive our salaries after three months of not being paid.”

“When we asked Dabbas Group about our salaries, they answered that EDL is not paying them their dues,” he added.

“We had promised ourselves to eat the grapes, not kill the guard, but today we decided to kill the guard because he is stealing from the vineyard,” Makhoul said, making a reference to a famous Arab proverb.

He further asked, “Why would EDL pay those who issue their invoices twice?”

Makhoul also accused Dabbas Group of duplicating its invoices, claiming that “EDL already warned [Dabbas Group] about a past invoice which the company had reissued but with a different date.”

At one point, the contract workers attempted to break into Dabbas Group’s offices, where they clashed with the security forces who barred them from entering.

The workers refused to open the road or remove their tent until the arrival of Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi.

“Thank you for responding to my request and opening the road. I promise you to start making calls to end the problem,” he said to the protesters at the end.

(Al-Akhbar)

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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