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Corpoelec Workers Protest Conditions as Venezuelan Electricity Minister Vows to “Restore Confidence” in Power Grid

Merida, 19th September 2013 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Electricity minister Jesse Chacon has pledged to improve Venezuela's power grid following widespread blackouts on 3 September, while workers at the state energy company Corpoelec have protested against new employment conditions.

On Wednesday, Chacon launched an initiative labelled by the government as “Mission Electricity” during the inauguration of the India Urquía power plant in Miranda state.

Chacon stated he intends to “restore confidence in our system”, following this month's blackouts. During the ceremony, the minister stated that the blackouts had been caused by a metal grille falling on electrical lines; the resulting short-circuit cutting power across the west of the country.

The minister reiterated previous statements that the malfunction was the result of sabotage, though he stated that an investigation is ongoing.

“It didn't fall due to a lack of maintenance, because [maintenance] was done on 27 June this year,” Chacon stated.

Following the blackouts, President Nicolas Maduro announced the creation of a new security unit to guard electricity sites.

“Only the armed forces and the people, united with [Corpoelec] employees can strengthen and give the security required for the system,” Chacon said yesterday.

Despite allegations of sabotage, Chacon argued that a new “awareness” of energy use is needed.

The minister stated that between 1998 and 2011 electricity usage has almost doubled, while arguing that Venezuela now produces three times more electricity than the Latin American per capita average. Venezuela also produces four times the electricity per capita rate than neighbouring Colombia, according to the minister.

Along with improving security, the new mission will promote the use of renewable energy and “rational” electricity consumption. One suggestion put forth by the minister was that Venezuelans should try to reduce unnecessarily usage of air conditioners.

“The mission seeks to provide that cultural change in Venezuelan society. To understand that we can make rational and efficient use of electrical energy and maintain the [current] levels of quality of life,” he stated.

The mission also aims to increase energy output by 1600 megawatts this quarter with new investment in energy infrastructure; including the construction of 150 new transmission lines. Chacon also stated that the government has invested US6 billion in new hydro-electricity assets along with thermo-electricity, which are expected to be operational by 2014. He also pledged to ensure more regular maintenance of the grid nationwide.

While Chacon launched the new mission, in Carabobo state a group of Corpoelec workers protested outside the state company's offices against new employment conditions established earlier this month.

According to the head of the Carabobo Electrical Union Herles Contreras, new conditions that came into effect on 1 September limit casual workers to 45 day contracts, after which they cannot be rehired for 90 days. However, casual workers will still need to wait around three months for rehiring even after completing a contract that is less than 45 days, which according to Contreras is common for many Corpoelec jobs.

“The revenue system, distribution, cutting, reconnection and the transmission system will be affected because many of these people do these jobs,” Contreras stated, arguing that hundreds of casual employees could be affected by the changes in Carabobo alone, and as many as 6000 nationwide.

Contreras stated that the new measures could cause “chaos” in the electricity sector.

Published on Sep 19th 2013 at 2.17pm