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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Algeria

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Algeria, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd88969c.html [accessed 25 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 35,400,000
Capital: Algiers

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Threats: 3
Injuries: 20
Arrests: 22
Dismissals: 262

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

The independent unions were kept further away than ever from national social dialogue and their activities were hampered in numerous ways: attacks on premises, dismissals and even death threats. Workers affiliated to the UGTA national centre were also persecuted for trying to create a trade union, in a large hotel for example, and for trying to get their demands heard.

Background

The demonstrations that rocked the country in January left five dead and over 800 injured. The authorities responded to the wave of protests by announcing significant reforms, including the lifting of the state of emergency imposed 19 years earlier. However there are fears that the draft law on associations will increase State control over them.

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.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Grass roots members call on UGTA to act, independent unions ostracised:

Unions affiliated to the national trade union centre the UGTA (Union générale des travailleurs algériens) demonstrated their anger at the contempt shown by the management of state-owned enterprises in response to the workers' legitimate demands for pay rises, the respect of trade union rights, and an end to the sanctions and legal proceedings against workers' representatives. Marches and sit-ins were organised, including one at the end of December in the Rouiba industrial zone outside the head offices of the UGTA urging the national centre to convey their message to the employers.

The independent trade unions were fiercely critical of the government which, as in previous years, had not included them in the tri-partite negotiations in May and September. The independent unions in the education and health sectors, although highly representative, had enormous difficulty making their demands heard by the authorities. Several strikes were ruled illegal. 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.

Social unrest spread to sectors usually untouched by it, such as the justice system with strikes by the clerks of court, lawyers and the communal guards, an auxiliary security force created during the war against the Islamists. As usual the authorities declared the strikes illegal and threatened sanctions against those who took part in the protest actions.

Violations

Several trade union leaders harassed:

On 27 September, Malik Fallil from the education sector, Chair of the National Committee of Pre-Employment and Social Network Workers, affiliated to the public sector union SNAPAP (Syndicat National Autonome des Personnels de l'Administration Publique) found that her employment contract had been terminated, yet no reason was given. She had earlier been threatened by the police, warning her to put an end to her trade union activities. One week before, on 20 September, she had been briefly arrested for taking part in a sit-in outside the Labour Ministry.

Several other leaders and members of independent unions were also harassed. The President of SNAPAP, Rachid Malaoui, has been persecuted for years, and threatened with death. His car was sabotaged in July. On 24 February Mourad Tchiko, another SNAPAP leader, and a civil protection officer, who had been suspended by his employer since 2004 and had his passport withdrawn in 2010, was called for questioning together with a photographer from the union when he went to support hunger strikers from the union's branch in the Higher National Institute for Public Works College (Ecole nationale supérieure des travaux publics – ENSTP).

There was also the arrest and questioning at the height of the protest movement at the beginning of the year of two prominent Algerian trade unionists: Ahmed Badaoui, a former UGTA (Union générale des travailleurs algériens) leader and Yacine Zaïd, a blogger, human rights activist and staunch defender of trade union rights in the oil industry where he worked until dismissed and prosecuted.

Angry health workers:

Six members of the paramedics union Syndicat algérien des paramédicaux (SAP) were suspended during a strike called by the union that began on 8 February. When the strikers resumed work on 24 February, the Health Ministry promised that it would meet the SAP's demands, including the reinstatement of its six activists.

The resident doctors (i.e. those in the process of specialisation) went on a four month strike, from March to July, with intermittent protest actions, some of which were harshly repressed by the police. The demonstrations of 4 May and 1 June in Algiers left some 20 strikers injured. The Health Ministry declared the strike illegal and punished the protesters by freezing their pay. The strike was suspended on 17 July. The strikers' demands included a pay review, improvements to the resident doctor status and above all the repeal of compulsory civil service whereby all young specialists have to work for between two and four years in remote areas of the country.

At the end of October the public sector health workers' unions, the Syndicat national des praticiens de santé publique (SNPSP) and the Syndicat national des praticiens spécialistes de la santé publique (SNPSSP) held a further one day strike to denounce the failure to meet the commitments made and the breaking off of social dialogue.

Trade union house and occupants targeted:

During the night of 19 to 20 March, youths threw stones at the Trade Union House in Dar El Beïda (Algiers) for several hours. Unemployed and supply teachers were holding a meeting in the building to prepare the protests actions they planned to hold the following day. Although the Trade Union House, the headquarters of the national public service union the Syndicat national autonome du personnel de l'administration publique (SNAPAP), is next door t a police station and a National Security services road block, the police did nothing to restore order. In fact according to many witnesses, the police seemed to be actively helping the attackers. A few weeks later, during the night of 8 to 10 May, the Trade Union House was burgled and the two computers there stolen. The premises were under almost permanent surveillance by the police.

On 25 September Akroune Belgacem, an officer from the General Information Service, went to the home of the owner of the premises. He put pressure on him to terminate the lease and evict the trade union. He was threatening and even warned that Rachid Malaoui, the president of the SNAPAP, would be assassinated and the premises locked up for a long time. He also tried to blackmail the landlord into accepting a new tenant and collaborating with the police. The authorities had already closed down the Trade Union House in 2010 on spurious grounds.

Five trade unionists dismissed at Linde Gaz: At the beginning of July, the management of Linde Gaz Algeria dismissed five members of the national trade union centre the Union générale des travailleurs algériens (UGTA) who had denounced their mis-management of the company.

145 strikers dismissed at Air Algérie: During the industrial dispute that paralysed Air Algerie from 10 to 14 July, management dismissed 145 employees who it had requisitioned but who refused to work, including Yacine Hamamouche, the General Secretary of the commercial airline workers' union the Syndicat national du personnel navigant commercial (SNPNC). Further to mediation by the Prime Minister and the national centre, the Union générale des travailleurs algériens (UGTA), the sanctions were lifted and negotiations resumed. Some 900 air stewards and stewardesses were protesting at the decision to bring their salaries into line with those of ground staff.

Intimidation and dismissals at a Sheraton hotel: The Sheraton Club des Pins in Algiers fiercely opposed the formation of a trade union. In June, a petition signed by nearly 300 workers for the creation of an organisation affiliated to the Union générale des travailleurs algériens (UGTA) national centre met with no response from the employer. On 13 September, two days before the founding general assembly was due to take place, three delegates were dismissed. On the 15th, the two other members of the trade union committee were also given the sack. Furthermore, the company took the five activists to court. Exasperated by management's attitude, virtually the entire staff joined in protest actions and a strike. Instead of negotiating a solution to the dispute, management set about a veritable purge of the staff. While some workers agreed to sign a statement saying they would abstain from striking many others learnt when they were called to a meeting by management that they would face financial penalties or be sacked. Since then, despite the steadfastness of hundreds of unfairly dismissed workers and the numerous messages sent by the International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF) management continued to refuse to negotiate with the workers and their representatives.

Four trade unionists dismissed at Huawei: On 29 November, the management of the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei dismissed four trade union delegates from the Union générale des travailleurs algériens (UGTA) in retaliation for a strike that had begun one week earlier.

Trade union support for vulnerable social groups:

Teachers took part in a sit-in that lasted the whole of December, outside the Education Ministry. On the night of 14 December, the security services came and took away their mattresses and blankets, insulted them and threatened them with imprisonment. This intimidation was repeated on several occasions. A number of teachers needed urgent medical attention after two weeks in the cold. The civil servants union the Syndicat national autonome du personnel de l'administration publique (SNAPAP) took up their cause, denouncing the silence and indifference of both the authorities and of civil society. Similar action at the beginning of 2011 had led to the integration of some contract teachers. The situation of a further 3,000 still needs to be put in order, even if the Education Ministry has stated that the matter is now closed.

In addition to contract teachers, SNAPAP supported the demands of pensioners who have created their own trade union, and the struggle of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, such as the five women intercepted in the south of the country while trying to join their husbands, whether or not they are clandestine, who are usually deprived of their most fundamental rights.

Education workers' rally repressed and 20 trade unionists arrested: On 20 December, 20 trade unionists who were trying to gather outside the Labour Ministry in Algiers were briefly arrested by the police. The members of the education workers' unions the Conseil des lycées d'Alger (CLA), the Syndicat national des corps communs des ouvriers professionnels de l'éducation nationale (SNCCOPEN) and the Syndicat national des travailleurs de la formation professionnelle (SNTPF) had been seeking accreditation for years.

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