Social conflicts in Algeria's public services on the rise

Members of the Civil Protection and fire brigade protested in Algiers to demand better jobs
Miembros de la Protección Civil de Argelia en una concentración frente a la sede del servicio en la capital Argel, el 2 de mayo de 2021, para protestar por la detención por parte de la policía de su representante durante una manifestación anterior en la que reclamaban mejores condiciones de trabajo AFP/ RYAD KRAMDI

AFP/ RYAD KRAMDI  -   Members of the Algerian Civil Protection at a rally in front of the service's headquarters in the capital Algiers, 2 May 2021, to protest the arrest by police of their representative during an earlier demonstration demanding better working conditions.

Police officers at the weekend forcibly dispersed a demonstration by members of the Civil Protection and fire brigades who were protesting in Algiers to demand better jobs and recognition for their efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic, which according to official figures has infected more than 122,000 Algerians and caused 3,261 deaths in the country. The demonstrators, dressed in their uniforms, began marching at midday from May Day Square towards the Al Mouradia palace, but were repelled by tear gas near the Hydra neighbourhood, one of the richest in the city.

The march was the third protest action by the two groups after two sit-ins last April in front of the main Civil Protection units. The firefighters complain that their basic salary is only 15,000 dinars, while the guaranteed national minimum wage (SNMG) is 20,000 dinars (just over 125 euros) from 2020. The Confederation of Algerian Trade Unions believes that a decent minimum wage should be four times higher. In addition, firefighters claim to work 80 hours a week, when the legal working week is 40 hours.

Policías argelinos forman una barrera mientras los miembros de Protección Civil se concentran frente a la sede de su servicio en la capital, Argel, el 2 de mayo de 2021 AFP/ RYAD KRAMDI
AFP/ RYAD KRAMDI-Algerian policemen form a barrier as members of the Civil Protection Service gather outside the headquarters of their service in the capital Algiers on 2 May 2021.

In a press and TV statement issued by the Ministry of Interior, it described the firefighters' march as "illegal" and referred to "a plot against the country", a recurrent accusation against any dissident voice in Algeria. It also accused the demonstrators of being pushed "by parties hostile to Algeria". In response, civil protection agents in Bejaia, in the north-eastern region of Kabylia, denounced the Interior Ministry's "mendacious" communiqué for "demonising" them, and announced a national demonstration for 9 May in Algiers. On 1 May, during his May Day message, Algerian President Albdemadjid Tebboune warned that "any form of expression of demands in the various sectors must take into account the interests of citizens, respect the laws of the Republic and not serve as a motive for questionable instrumentalisation".

Protestar por la detención por parte de la policía de su representante la Protección Civil   durante una manifestación anterior en la que reclamaban mejores condiciones de trabajo AFP/RYAD KRAMDI
AFP/RYAD KRAMDI-Protesting the arrest by the police of their Civil Protection representative during an earlier demonstration demanding better working conditions.

In a worrying sign for an unpopular regime crippled by Hirak's return to the streets, social conflicts are multiplying in public services: education, tax administration, railways, firefighters and the COVID-19-worn health sector. Algerian President Albdemadjid Tebboune urged his government on Sunday 2 May to establish "a dialogue" with the social partners to try to calm the social anger that is growing in the country. During a council of ministers, Tebboune "ordered a dialogue with the various social partners to improve the socio-professional situation of employees in the education and health sector", according to an official statement.

In response, the General Directorate of Civil Protection assured on Sunday that all the demands of the officers registered in the Special Statute and expressed during today's march will be satisfied after the revision of the statutes. It therefore urged all officers "to show discipline, common sense and high responsibility, and to avoid subversive actions and organisations aimed at sowing confusion and chaos, which threaten the stability of the country".

El presidente argelino Abdelmadjid Tebboune PHOTO/FAROUK BATICHE
PHOTO/FAROUK BATICHE- Abdelmadjid Tebboune

The authorities are facing increasing conflict in public services: education, tax administration, railways, fire brigades and a health sector worn down by the pandemic. With strikes, high unemployment (15%), impoverishment, rising prices and shortages of basic commodities, this simmering social front comes on top of a deep economic crisis, born of falling oil revenues, and political stagnation that has persisted since the popular revolt against the Hirak regime two years ago. This pandemic year has deteriorated its already fragile economy, mired in an acute crisis since the sharp drop in oil and gas revenues in 2014 - the only wealth it exploits - and which, according to the labour ministry, has claimed nearly 50,000 jobs.

More than 24 million citizens are called to the polls on 12 June, although most parties and the Hirak are calling for a boycott, considering it a "façade to hide corruption in the regime" and an attempt to dismantle the protest without having to undertake the reforms demanded by citizens. Hirak, which resumed weekly demonstrations every Tuesday and Friday in March after a year's absence due to health measures against the coronavirus, considers that there has been no real change and insists on demanding "a civilian state, not a military one".