Electricity workers continue protesting at Jordanian Prime Ministry

Published April 23rd, 2012 - 07:02 GMT

Around 200 Jordanian Electric Power Company (JEPCO) workers gathered outside the Prime Ministry on Sunday to protest against what they called unfair working conditions.

For 16 days, JEPCO workers have been on an open-ended strike demanding improved financial benefits, including four months bonus salary each year, end-of-service allowances, better health insurance and transportation services for all workers. Although the strike will continue, Jaber Zawahreh, a member of the JEPCO workers' independent union, said on Sunday that there would be no power outages as employees are still working at the company’s control centre and emergency offices.

However, they are refusing bill payments from subscribers. Sameer Hijazin, Vice President of the Workers’ Union, said on Thursday that the employees had decided to give the company until Sunday morning to meet their demands or face an escalation, which came in the form of their protest outside the Prime Ministry. Ahmad Meri, the President of the Union, said that if their demands were not met by Tuesday, the workers would march to the Royal palaces in northwest Amman.

"His Majesty King Abdullah is the only one who can help us and resolve the dispute," he told The Jordan Times over the phone Sunday. Protesters chanted slogans outlining their demands from the company and calling on the labour minister to resign. Mahmoud Hiari, a JEPCO employee, said the workers demonstrated outside the Prime Ministry to send a message to the government about their demands.

"We are Jordanian workers and have the right to ask for fair social and economic demands. We have the right to enhance our families' financial situation," he told The Jordan Times during the demonstration. He accused the government of not supporting the workers and said it had not shown any intent to resolve the dispute. "If guest workers were holding a demonstration, their problem would be resolved quickly," Hiari alleged. MPs, he said, were the only state representatives who had supported the workers, and were doing their best to resolve the issue.

Labour Ministry Spokesperson Haitham Khasawneh said the ministry had no comment on the matter. Previously, JEPCO Director General Marwan Bushnaq said that the workers’ demands would add more pressure on the company’s already strained finances.

In a previous telephone interview with The Jordan Times, he said the demands were unreasonable, given that the workers already receive three months bonus salary, social security coverage, full health insurance coverage and transportation allowances. Majid Shalbi, another worker who said he had been working at the company for 30 years, disputed Bushnaq’s claims, saying the company earned steady profits and was not facing any financial distress.

On the other hand, he said, he cannot afford to meet the costs of living because his salary is too low. "I am paid JD600 a month. The university fees for my children cost me JD15,000 for four years. How can I afford to meet these expenses with such a modest salary?" Shalbi asked. Mohammad Fares, another protester, said some of the company's benefits were distributed unfairly.

"Only engineers get transportation fees. We need this benefit because some employees live outside the capital," he claimed, adding that the company’s health insurance policy does not cover expensive medications. Bushnaq was not available for comment on Sunday.

Union dispute

The workers also criticised the Electricity Workers Union (EWU) for not supporting their strike, with some calling for the union to be abolished. But EWU President Ali Hadid said the union had contacted the company and submitted several demands on behalf of the JEPCO workers before the strike began.

"We presented our demands on March 28. The employees did not respect what we did and they decided to go on strike," he told The Jordan Times over the phone on Sunday, adding that the demands presented by the EWU were “fair and reasonable”, whereas the workers’ current demands were not.

Hadid said the newly established independent union was not legal and that the EWU is the only legal representative of electricity sector workers. "JEPCO workers claimed that a great number of workers had left the union, but the truth is that no one did that," he said. Hadid also emphasised that the benefits JEPCO workers are demanding will be costly.

"The electricity sector faces financial challenges and employees should consider that," he said. Hadid voiced hope that the problem would be resolved in the next two days, saying the company was likely willing to meet the demands presented by the EWU in March.

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