Lebanon: Electricite Du Liban files lawsuit against protesters

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Protesters burn tires in front of EDL's headquarters in Beirut. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Firas Abou-Mosleh, Rana Harbi, Azza el-Masri

Published Thursday, August 21, 2014

The board of directors at the government-owned Electricite Du Liban (EDL) have announced in a statement Tuesday that a “unanimous” decision has been made to sue Lebnan Makhoul, the head of the Contract Workers’ Committee, and Ahmed Shoaib and Bilal Bajou for “sealing the EDL’s doors, blocking both customers and employees from entering, and defaming the institution’s board of directors.”

The administrative board said that this step was “the only solution” to the crisis sparked by approximately 1,800 part-time workers, responsible for providing fee collection and maintenance services, who have yet to be given full-time employment.

Workers have blocked roads and burned tires across the country in Jwayya, Bint Jbeil, Sidon, and Tyre since the start of their open-ended strike on Monday, and barricaded the institution’s headquarters in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael neighborhood, preventing employees from entering.

EDL has agreed to promote only 897 of 1,391 technical and administrative employees, who work for subsidiary companies that only employ them temporarily, and who had sent reports to their heads of departments highlighting the need for full-time employment.

Even though the public company said it was merely implementing the results of a law parliament passed in April, Makhoul had said on August 11 that protests would continue until EDL reverses its decision.

In August 2012, part time workers ended a three month strike after an agreement was reached with officials on the issue of full time contracts, but a draft bill was never approved. In April, workers protested again parliament's failure to approve a draft law that could grant over 1,000 of them full time contracts and benefits. However, MPs passed a watered-down version of the law and EDL announced that less than half of its contract workers would be employed full-time, pushing the workers to take to the streets in protest last week.

The decision from the board of directors to pursue the three protesters came after the EDL sent letters to the State Prosecutor’s office, the Ministry of Interior, and the Directorate General of the Internal Security Forces, urging them to take necessary measures to curb the workers' control over EDL's main building and some of its departments, and stop them from closing its doors to employees and citizens.

The statement also stipulated that legal "measures were to be taken against service providers, that includes paying for the damage sustained [especially to the port] and prolonged holidays" since protesting workers were employed at these companies under contracts.

Similarly, the union for workers at EDL released a statement urging them to end “the siege” on the institution, warning that the EDL's blocked buildings threaten “the collapse of the institution and the fate of the workers and users.” The union also called on “political factions to put an end to this farce, so that escalating measures will not be taken at the beginning of next week.”

In a phone interview with Al-Akhbar, Ahmed Shoaib condemned the targeting of certain individuals as their movement is built on “a collective decision taken unanimously by a follow-up committee composed of 12 members, as well as a council of delegates composed of more than 60 members.”

Shoaib added that the goal behind this lawsuit is to “pressure the union, which is fighting for individuals in all regions and from all sects, into giving up.”

He claimed that the board of directors in EDL seeks to cover up the corruption happening in the electricity sector. However, according to Shoaib, the Lebanese trade unions, electricity workers and collectors will file a counterclaim as they have the documents needed to condemn EDL, including one sent by the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) in 2011 that states that the status of part time electricity workers and collectors in the organization is based on the “circumvention of social security laws” and that the EDL can be fined 48 billion Lebanese liras ($32 million).

Following the announcement of the lawsuit against EDL, the contract workers’ committee held an urgent meeting and decided to take legal action and “file a lawsuit against the EDL board of directors and the general director who are violating the rights of the workers and collectors who have been working for the EDL for over 15 years.”
The union also urged the State Prosecutor to take seriously Lebanese channel NBN’s report on how Lebanon’s electricity meters are “Israeli” in origin.

According to a source at EDL, the institution has sent letters to the Ministries of Economy, Communication, Justice, Defense and Interior with the names of the companies that supplied the electricity meters and asked them to report any company that has ties with Israel.

Similar to the 2012 strikes, many have accused the protesters of being the cause behind the extremely long power cuts in the summer. However, recent reports have shown that the main problem behind these cuts is a financial one.

EDL’s General Director Kamal al-Hayek told As-Safir that the electricity sector lacked the budget to build more facilities to sustain and produce sufficient power. Hayek stressed on the need “to build new power plants as soon as possible,” especially since the districts of Tyre and Baalbak only have one power plant each.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

I have had no electricity for over two days bcause My house has Tre vise and only two working lines came ; so I could not have electricity. I spent the whole day today calling tyre,saida, and Beirut and they said workers refuse to go out for repairs!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I never heard something like this in any country. Civilized workers can satrike but should not hold citizens hostage.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Beverly.

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