HomePoliticsNewsConnection lost

Connection lost

An ongoing strike at Lebanon’s state telecommunications company is threatening to disrupt internet and cellular services throughout the country, putting its residents’ connection to the world at risk.

Ogero employees have been on strike since March 24 to demand higher wages amid Lebanon's economic crisis. Photo: NNA

The employees at Lebanon’s state telecommunications company, Ogero, have been on strike since March 24, refusing to go back to work until their demands are met.

This strike comes as other public sector employees have refused to work due to low wages amid Lebanon’s ever-worsening economic crisis which has affected countless lives across the country.

Why are Ogero employees striking?: According to Ogero’s union, the employees decided to go on strike to demand higher wages after they staged a warning strike earlier in the week.

Members of the union say that they, like other public sector employees, want their salaries tied to the dollar so that they can make a basic living, adding that their current salaries are worth practically nothing with the lira’s collapse.

The employees have successfully negotiated salary increases in the past but, with the lira’s continued devaluation, the gains made with the new salaries quickly disappeared.

The government response: Following the start of the strike, caretaker Communications Minister Johnny Corm said that the strike was a “hasty decision” and that the union should have waited for the outcome of negotiations before declaring their refusal to work.

According to Corm, he and his ministry stand by Ogero’s employees and support their right to demand fair pay, but added that the strike was called while efforts to find a solution were in their “infancy.”

“The employees’ strike is a hasty decision taken by the union and did not wait for the outcome of the efforts and solutions, bearing in mind that any decisions to increase salaries and wages are never subject to my authority in my capacity as Minister of Communications, but are matters exclusively entrusted to the Cabinet as a whole, and it is not possible legally and without My position is to approve such demands unilaterally,” Corm stated.

Not the only ones on strike: Public employees throughout Lebanon have been increasingly calling for open-ended strikes as the economic crisis and the devaluation of the lira has gone into overdrive since the start of the year.

Public school teachers in Lebanon have been on strike since January 9 to demand higher wages, as many of them complain that their current salaries are barely enough to cover their transportation costs to and from the schools.

This strike put well over one million schoolchildren at risk of missing out or delaying their education due to their schools’ closure.

While the Ministry of Education has said that it is working to meet the demands of the teachers, nearly three months later, there has still been no solution.

Consequences: Ogero is Lebanon’s sole telecommunications provider, with internet across the country coming from the company.

With employees refusing to work, it has spurred fears that the country could eventually be without internet access.

It is not only the strike that has people worried about an internet blackout in Lebanon, but also the state of the generators that power Ogero and its services. These generators are slowly running out of fuel and if there is no one to refill them, then Ogero’s services could begin to gradually shut down throughout the country.

On top of this, Lebanon’s two cellular companies, Alfa and Touch, run their network through Ogero, meaning that as Ogero’s services continue to worsen, it could also affect cellular services throughout the country, essentially cutting people off from one another, depending on what areas still have a signal.

Reportedly, there is talk that the Lebanese army could take over Ogero in order to ensure that its services continue.

In a call between caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Corm, Mikati raised this possibility with Corm as a way of putting pressure on the Ogero employees.

Corm did not immediately dismiss the option, adding that “all centers and offices are at [the army’s] disposal.”

The army said that it had no knowledge of any plans for it to take over the Ogero offices.

What next: Corm has renewed calls for the strike to come to an end in exchange for the government holding an emergency session to discuss the issue of the strike and to hold negotiations with the employees.

Ogero’s employees are unlikely to call of the strike over vague promises to hold a cabinet session and negotiations that may not go anywhere. Instead, the strike will most probably continue, putting more pressure on the government to meet their demands and put more strain on the system since the longer the strike goes on, the higher the likelihood is that Lebanon may increasingly become cut off from the world.

Nicholas Frakes is a senior reporter with @NOW_leb. He tweets  @nicfrakesjourno.