Suleiman, Constitutional Council to Decide on EDL Workers Employment as Sharp Differences Loom

Posted on: July 05, 2012 at 01:26
The controversial employment of Electricite du Liban’s contract workers, which paralyzed the cabinet and the parliament on Tuesday, is jeopardizing the alliance between Hizbullah and the Free Patriotic Movement as President Michel Suleiman is set to decide on the matter.

The ball is in the president’s court, who will have to either ink the parliament’s approval of the workers’ permanent employment or refer it back to the legislature, local newspapers said on Wednesday.

The president “has the right not to sign the draft law and refer it back to the parliament, and we have the right to re-approve it,” sources close to Speaker Nabih Berri told al-Akhbar newspaper.

The matter then will have to be referred to the Constitutional Council, which was established to supervise the constitutionality of laws.

However, the Council can also return the draft law back to the parliament.

“Whoever thinks that we will vote again on the issue is delusional,” the sources said.

According to An Nahar newspaper, Phalange party, Lebanese Forces, Ashrafiyeh and Zahle MPs don’t support the proposal made by Energy Minister Jebran Bassil, who is loyal to Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun.

Bassil has previously proposed to allow 700 contract workers to stand for an official exam, out of some 2,500 employees, while the rest would become employees at private companies under a three-month probation period as the company can’t contain all of the employees.

The lawmakers are rather suggesting the introduction of new amendments to the draft law approved by the parliament on Monday.

On Tuesday, Berri decided to suspend the legislative session after Aoun’s Change and Reform bloc, the Phalange party, Lebanese Forces, Ashrafiyeh and Zahle MPs boycotted the session to protest the parliament’s approval of EDL contract workers’ full-employment.

The Christian MPs argue that the permanent employment of those workers would destabilize the sectarian balance at EDL as around 80 percent of them belong to non-Christian sects and most of them support Berri, who is a Shiite.

Sources close to the speaker denied that there are any sectarian motives behind the approval of the law.

The sources expressed astonishment over the campaign against Berri, noting that the voting at the parliament was by raising hands, which is not a new issue.

“No one objected after the vote, nor a re-voting was suggested,” the sources said.

They pointed out that the sharp reaction by the FPM is based on electoral interests.

Informed sources told An Nahar newspaper that there are some 2,500 contract workers at EDL - almost 70 percent of them Muslims (around 50% Shiites, 25% Sunnis and Druze).

The sources noted that the permanent employment of the workers would cost the state’s treasury between LL130 billion and LL140 billion.

The employees will have to sit for a closed exam, which will be held by the Civil Service Board.

Prime Minister Najib Miqati urged all parties, in comments published in As Safir newspaper, to “prioritize rationality,” hoping that this matter would be resolved soon.

For his part, Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat slammed the stance taken by Aoun over the approval of the EDL workers employment.

“His stance comes in accordance with his historical stances that have always been absurd,” Jumblat told As Safir.

The thorny issue seems to have a negative impact on the close ties between the FPM and Hizbullah.

Bassil lashed out during an interview with OTV on Tuesday at his allies in Hizbullah, saying: “Hizbullah is responsible for the crisis by merely playing the role of a spectator.”

He warned that corruption in the country might affect the status of the resistance.

Al-Liwaa newspaper reported that AMAL and Hizbullah MPs held a meeting on Tuesday to address the crisis and find the adequate solutions.

EDL contract workers have been holding an open-end strike for the last three months. On Tuesday, they vowed to continue their protest until the parliamentary decision is published in the official gazette.
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