ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182
The numerous protest actions by independent unions were repressed by the authorities, particularly in the education and health sectors. The activism of the General Union of Algerian Workers (l'Union générale des travailleurs algériens – UGTA) was frequently ignored or fought against by employers, whether the State, mixed, private or multinational enterprises. The right to strike is curtailed by the authorities' broad rights to intervene.
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 2009
Background: On 9 April Abdelaziz Bouteflika was re-elected to serve a third term as President, with 90% of the vote. Human rights violations continued. By the end of 2009 there was mounting social unrest. Inflation had reached an average of 5.7% for the first 11 months of the year, while over the same period the price of fresh produce had exploded (rising by more than 21%).
Independent unions constantly repressed: The independent unions, which have become ever more representative in the education and health sectors over the last few years, are finding it as difficult as ever to make their demands heard by the authorities. Some of these organisations have still not been able to register and therefore have no legal existence. Their names are sometimes usurped by government-backed dissidents, in an effort to undermine their representativeness. These independent organisations are almost never consulted. Hence, despite their demands, they were not involved in the triennial pay negotiations at the end of the year. In addition to the refusal to recognise them and the interference they are often subjected to, many of the protest actions they carried out in the course of the year were often judged illegal and were harshly repressed.
Multinationals hostile to trade unions and social dialogue: In oil-rich southern Algeria, workers and their representatives complained throughout the year that the 20 or so multinational companies operating there continually flout labour legislation. However, the authorities ignored all protests by workers and trade unions. Activists who dared challenge decisions they believed to be unjust, or unsatisfactory working conditions, were frequently harassed, threatened or dismissed by their employers. It was extremely difficult for them to get their voice heard. The health of Myriem Mehdien, on hunger strike since 10 November after being unfairly dismissed by British Gas, was causing serious concern by the end of 2009. With the support of her colleagues, she refused to comply with a radical change in her working hours. For several months, she was subjected to threats and pressure. The three-year ordeal faced by Yacine Zaïd also illustrates some employers' contempt for trade union rights and social dialogue (see "Yacine Zaïd in the face of injustice at Compass" in the Violations section).
Contract teachers' union targeted by the authorities: Members of the National Council of Contract Teachers (CNEC) were ill-treated by the authorities throughout the year. Many rallies held outside the presidential palace were violently dispersed, notably on 10 February, 23 March and 5 August. During the three week strike by the independent education unions in November, CNEC activists and were beaten and taken in for questioning. The sit-ins by the contract teachers did not stop however. On 4 December, also outside the presidential palace, police officers beat the protesters with their batons. One protester had to be taken to hospital urgently and 12 were arrested and detained for several hours. At the last CNEC rally on 29 December, 38 demonstrators were taken to the police station. It is estimated that there are at least 30,000 contract teachers. Some have lived in this precarious situation for 15 years. Many contract teachers have been unfairly dismissed, particularly because of their trade union activities. They are regularly threatened with legal action, such as the seven teachers summonsed to appear on 6 August by a public prosecutor, even though no complaints had been made against them. In October, a regional CNEC coordinator in Annaba was sentenced to a six-month prison term and a fine of 20,000 DZD (about 200 euros) for carrying a placard and protesting outside the local Education ministry offices.
Authorities try to silence independent union: At the beginning of January, the authorities decided to close down the regional office of the Autonomous Union of Public Administration Personnel (SNAPAP) in Bedjala. They also tried to appoint Felfoul Bekacem as the leader of the organisation, replacing Rachid Malaoui. The latter had been arrested on 6 January in the company of several other trade unionists during a march in support of the people of Gaza. Felfoul Bakacem, the supposed new general secretary of the SNAPAP, had publicly supported President Bouteflika's bid for a third term.
Prison terms for 15 teaching union members: On 21 January, in Constantine, 15 teachers belonging to the Autonomous National Council of Secondary and Technical School Teachers (CNEPEST) were given two month suspended prison sentences for unlawful assembly, refusing to obey orders and for carrying placards inciting disorder. The events dated back to 2 July 2008, and a sit-in organised outside the Education Department's offices to protest notably at the non-recognition of their organisation. On 27 April, on appeal, 15 teachers from the independent union were discharged. The CNAPEST publicly denounced the anti-union pressures and the threats made against several local union leaders in towns across the country.
No union at leading mobile phone company Orascom: On 8 March, 200 workers at Orascom Telecom organised a sit-in to protest, notably, against the absence of a union at this subsidiary of the Egyptian group.
Mass dismissal of strikers at Sonatro: On 14 April, 320 workers at the National Roadworks Comany (SONATRO), including 22 activists from the local branch of the General Workers' Union of Algeria (UGTA), were dismissed for "abandoning their posts". They had taken protest action to denounce inhuman working conditions, the non-payment of wage-arrears and more generally the poor management and programmed bankruptcy of their company. Management of this former jewel of the economy and the country's authorities did not respond to any of the appeals for dialogue, despite daily sit-ins outside the company's head office. On 15 July, one of the dismissed strikers died at home of a heart attack.
Anti-union pressure at Electro-Industries: In Azazga (in the Tizi Ouzou wilaya), management at Electro-Industries resorted to many forms of anti-union pressure and manoeuvres. It refused to meet the local branch of the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), docked strikers wages and submitted complaints against several activists. After two months of protests (March and April), the workers won the agreement of the public authorities to replace their manager.
Sanctions against 11 health workers: In June, in the Mascara wilaya, 11 health sector workers, including several members of the General Union of Algeria Workers (UGTA), were suspended. The local health authorities reinstated them in September. Benbekar Sadek, general secretary of the local branch of the UGTA at the Ghriss hospital was transferred, however. This practice, a sanction against public service workers, has regularly been denounced by UGTA activists. The simple fact of denouncing poor management, deplorable working conditions or the absence of social dialogue can give rise to such sanctions.
80 striking dockworkers dismissed: During a strike that took place from 25 June to 4 July at the Algiers container port, the new management company, the Dubaï Port World group, dismissed 300 dock workers exasperated at the failure to honour promises over pay, as well as deteriorating working and health and safety conditions. The intervention of the National Port Unions of Algeria Coordination (CNSPA) resulted supposedly in the reintegration of the strikers, but yet again the new management failed to keep its word, and refused to reinstate 80 of them.
No social dialogue at Carravic: In August, unions at two production units at the poultry farming company Carravic in El Asnam and Aïn Alloui (in the Bouira wilaya), both affiliated to the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA), stopped work for several weeks in protest at management's disregard for the workers and their representatives.
45 strikers dismissed by soft drinks group Ifri: Management at an Ifri group mineral water bottling unit in Ouzellaguene (in the Béjaïa wilaya) dismissed 45 workers, including three of the four members of the local trade union branch, after a strike from 1 to 4 August. The Algerian Human Rights League (LADH), which defended the dismissed strikers, considered the sanction illegal.
Brutal repression of huge education strike: At the end of the year, the Algerian authorities tried to prevent a strike by the teaching unions by declaring it illegal. The organisations involved included the Autonomous Education Workers' Union (SATEF), the National Union of Education and Training Workers (UNPEF), the Autonomous National Council of Secondary and Technical School Teachers (CNEPEST), the National Council of Contract Teachers (CNEC) and the Algerian High Schools Council (CLA). The strike, which began on 8 November and finished at the end of November, was one of the strongest in the sector in recent years. Over 500,000 teachers supported the strike, forcing the authorities to negotiate with their representatives. During their rallies, many activists, women as well as men, were beaten and arrested. In one notable incident on 10 November, some 50 teachers were arrested. Meriem Maârouf, President of the CNEP, explained that there were many women among the victims of police brutality, notably a pregnant teacher who had been hit in the stomach and had to be hospitalised. A man lost consciousness after being beaten on the head. Those arrested faced police questioning before being released in small groups in the middle of the night.
Yacine Zaïd in the face of injustice at Compass: At the end of December Yacine Zaïd made his 24th court appearance. He was facing multiple charges from the British group Compass. The company, which provides contract catering and support services for multinationals active in the oil and natural gas industry, dismissed Yacine Zaïd just after the creation of a local branch of the General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) and his election as branch leader in December 2006. At least 10 other members of the union were also removed. His only consolation to date is that via his blog Yacine Zaïd has attracted the attention and support of foreign and international trade union organisations (see "Multinationals hostile to trade unions and social dialogue" in "Practice").
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