2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Algeria
|Publisher||International Trade Union Confederation|
|Publication Date||8 June 2011|
|Cite as||International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Algeria, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea66229154.html [accessed 1 February 2015]|
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
The authorities' broad powers to declare strikes illegal proved insufficient to prevent their existence, but they were often suppressed by employers and the authorities. Trade union rights are not guaranteed in multinational companies and are nonexistent in those linked to oil and gas production. In the public sector, independent unions face extremely tight constraints, giving them very little room for manoeuvre. In May, trade union premises in Algiers were closed down under false pretences.
TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW
Union organising is frustrated by excessive restrictions and government intervention. In order to be recognised, a union needs to represent at least 20% of the workers in an enterprise and must obtain prior authorisation from the government.
Legal strikes are difficult to organise, as they must be preceded by a secret ballot of the entire workforce. In addition, pursuant to the Act of 6 February 1990, the authorities can refer an industrial dispute to the National Arbitration Commission. The government can also ban a strike if it is deemed to cause a serious economic crisis, or declare it a subversive or terrorist action if it obstructs public services or impedes traffic or freedom of movement in public places. Finally, pursuant to the State of Emergency decreed in 1992, the latter offences carry hefty penalties including imprisonment for up to 20 years.
TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010
Background: Algeria's economic dependence on oil and gas exports remains a major cause for concern, along with the poor job prospects for young people. The official unemployment rate is 10%, but the actual figure is closer to 25%. The price of foodstuffs continued to soar, fuelling discontent among a population still largely living in poverty. Civil liberties are heavily constrained by the state of emergency that has been in force since 1992.
Independent unions repressed: Independent unions in the education and health sectors, although highly representative, had enormous difficulty making their demands heard by the authorities. The scant progress or promises made in terms of pay,for example, were only secured after many months of protest staged in spite of the intimidation suffered at the hands of the authorities. Several strikes were declared illegal. Threats were brandished that the strikers would face mass dismissals and the unions would be de-registered. Many trade unions have still not been recognised, or their names have been usurped by government-backed dissidents, in a bid to undermine their representativeness.
Although still in gestation, a trade union centre, the CSA (Confédération des syndicats algériens) was formed in April by the four most representative unions in the health and education sectors, the CNAPEST (Conseil national autonome des professeurs de l'enseignement secondaire et technique), the UNPEF (Union nationale des travailleurs de l'éducation et de la formation) the SNPSP (Syndicat national des praticiens de santé publique) and the SNPSSP (Syndicat national des praticiens spécialistes de la santé publique). The confederation criticised the exclusion of independent unions from the process of revising the labour law.
Strike suppressed in industrial suburb of Algiers: On 6 and 7 January, anti-riot police brutally suppressed a strike in Rouïba, an industrial suburb to the east of Algiers. At least five workers were injured. The 5,000 employees of the national automobile company SNVI (Société nationale des véhicules industriels) had downed tools on 4 January; the action then spread to other companies in the area. The workers were demanding pay rises as well as marking their opposition to a pension reform and the main decisions of a tripartite agreement concluded at national level in December 2009.
Vocational training union awaiting registration since 2002: The national union of vocational training workers SNTFP (Syndicat national des travailleurs de la formation professionnelle) has been trying in vain to register since 2002. In March, in the response addressed to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association, the government claimed that the union was to blame for the delay. It also explained it had carried out investigations into the founding members and that several of them had police records that cast doubt on their credibility. The Committee on Freedom of Association refuted these arguments and urged the government to register the SNTFP without delay. In April, the Minister of Vocational Training announced that he would only negotiate with the UGTA (Union générale des travailleurs algériens), and that he could not recognise trade unions that have not been registered.
Freelance journalists harassed following strike: The stringers staging a strike at El Bahdja radio were forcibly ejected by the police on 7 March and the management of the national radio broadcasting corporation ENRS, which controls the station, filed charges against seven of them for illegally occupying its premises and staging a wildcat strike. The strikers were suspended and barred from the radio station. Several protests were staged.
Despite the charges being dismissed by the Algerian judiciary and the mediation efforts of the national federation of Algerian journalists FNJA and the national journalists' union SNJ, the radio's management refused to compromise. It demanded that as a precondition to their reinstatement the journalists must sign a public statement testifying to political and foreign manipulation (the International Federation of Journalists, IFJ, had supported the strikers) and must agree to be transferred to other radios. Several journalists, under pressure, agreed to these conditions. The ENRS journalists, some 900 in total, had called the strike in protest at their status as eternal stringers. They had just, moreover, learnt that their set fees were being replaced with piecework rates, making their employment even more precarious.
Repression following two strikes in cement industry: Two "illegal" stoppages were held at a Lafarge Group cement plant. In May, the staff downed tools for six days after a strike notice was served by the branch of the UGTA (Union générale des travailleurs algériens) at the company. The management retaliated by trying to get rid of three trade unionists. In June, Lafarge's failure to honour its pledge to keep on 145 agents hired through a security firm, with the arrival of a new subcontractor in charge of security services, led to another work stoppage. The 145 dismissed workers had to be forcibly evicted by the police. Seven of them, including the head of the branch union, were arrested on 19 August, after Lafarge's management filed charges against them for proffering threats and obstructing work and freedom of movement. The seven security workers were released on 31 August and condemned to pay a fine.
Authorities shut down Maison des syndicats: On 12 May, the Algiers city authorities ordered the closure of the Maison des syndicats, the premises rented by the national independent union of public administration staff, the SNAPAP (Syndicat national autonome des personnels de l'administration publique), which also served as a meeting venue for several independent unions. A trade union forum bringing together unionists from several countries in the Maghreb region was due to be held there two days later.
The pretext presented was that "public meetings and gatherings were being organised without prior authorisation, foreign nationals were invited without notifying the relevant authorities or requesting authorisation, and the space was being used as a meeting place for young men and women from different countries in the region". As the notice was served to the owner rather than the lessee, the SNAPAP was deprived of the right to contest the decision. Independent trade unions were also deprived of a place to meet and hold debates, in a context where requests to authorise meetings in public places are systematically rejected.
Tripartism in crisis at ArcelorMittal: In June, the management at the El Hadjar steelworks owned by ArcelorMittal succeeded in efforts to ban a strike on procedural grounds, which were contested by the local branch of the UGTA (Union générale des travailleurs algériens). The UGTA finally called for the strike's suspension. Three strikes were staged during 2010 at the complex employing some 7,000 people with ever growing concerns about their future given the refusal to meet their pay demands, the ever wider use of contract labour and the large number of employees being dismissed. In November, Farah Lotfi, the UGTA branch secretary at ArcelorMittal, denounced the "oppression and constraints exerted by the multinational" and the management's refusal to recognise the tripartite agreements.
Administrative and legal offensives against two SNAPAP leaders: On 24 October, the authorities refused to renew the passport of Mourad Tchiko, an executive member of the national independent union of public administration staff, the SNAPAP (Syndicat national autonome des personnels de l'administration publique). The union leader is facing legal action for defamation, instituted by the General Directorate for Civil Protection. He was suspended from his post as a fireman in December 2004 for having organised a sit-in.
Rachid Malaoui, the president of the SNAPAP, has not been allowed to travel to France or any other Schengen countries to maintain and develop links between his union and its European counterparts. After having to undergo urgent surgery in France in 2006, the Algerian administration has since refused, in breach of the Franco-Algerian social security convention, to settle his hospital bill. For Public Services International (PSI), to which the SNAPAP is affiliated, this is "effectively a breach of the right to freedom of movement and trade union freedom".
Trade unionism forbidden in many oil and gas multinationals: Many multinationals operating in the oil-rich south of Algeria continued to show hostility towards workers' demands. The general workers' union UGTA repeatedly denounced the anti-union practices deployed by multinationals in the Hassi Messaoud region. Companies have prohibited workers from organising and pressing for better working conditions.
Over recent years, workers attempting to exercise their trade union rights have faced threats and harassment. Legal rulings ordering employers to reinstate workers who have been dismissed or faced arbitrary decisions have been ignored. On 5 March, Meryem Mehdi ended a 79-day hunger strike following an agreement with her former employer, British Gas. Several protests in front of ministries and the multinational's headquarters had led nowhere. Yacine Zaïd, a former employee of Compass, is another of the rare victims who managed to capture the media's attention. Dismissed by the British group in 2006, just after trying to set up a branch of the UGTA, his blog has often served as a platform for denouncing workers' rights violations in these multinationals.