Social discontent mounts in Algeria

Clerks and paramedics were already on strike throughout Algeria when 40,000 other union members decided to join them.

From administrators to trash collectors, the local council workers began a strike on Sunday (February 20th) to demand pay hikes and special status.

The protests have garnered massive support in some wilayas, even though trash has not been picked up for days and civil administrative matters are at a standstill.

The interior ministry promised to look into their demands but failed to quell the strike.

A day before the local council workers’ protest, court clerks embarked on a wildcat strike to protest their working conditions. The stoppage began in the court of Algiers before spreading to 30 out of the country’s 36 courts.

The clerks, who constitute the backbone of the legal system, have drawn up a raft of demands, calling for repealing the law which governs their activities. They described it as a penal code because of the large number of punishments laid down for mistakes. They also asked for placing their work under the aegis of the justice department instead of the civil service and demanded a pay rise.

“We work for a pittance, and yet we have huge responsibilities to bear. If we make a mistake we can be sent to prison,” explained Nabil, who works in the court of Sidi M’hamed, Algiers.

The protest led to the suspension of trials, infuriating some citizens.

“I’m beginning to get desperate,” Mahdia Guerfi, who is waiting for the verdict in a case which pitted her against her business partner, told Magharebia. “My case should have been heard on Thursday, and it’s been one delay after another. I understand that the court clerks are angry, but we’re the ones who are really suffering.”

Two weeks ago, paramedics launched an indefinite strike, heeding the call from the Algerian paramedics’ union (SAP). Their protests, which started on February 8th, caused widespread disruption in hospitals and polyclinics, leading to the postponement of surgeries and even the most basic activities.

“I needed an injection. I traipsed round all the hospitals, but no-one wanted to do it,” Mohamed Seghir, who works in an Algiers hotel, told Magharebia. “The nurses are on strike, and despite my insistence, I went away untreated. I had to call in on someone I know, who gave me my injections at her home. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my course of treatment.”

While aware of the inconvenience, SAP chief Lounés Ghachi maintained that the union had no other option.

“The SAP will not give up on its demands, and is waiting for a commitment in writing from the ministry. We’re waiting for our new special status to be proclaimed, with our integration into Table ‘A’ category 11, as well as paramedical training to be incorporated into the Licence-Master-Doctorate system so that we can benefit from the Bac+4 training,” he said.

Like Algerian public-sector physicians last year, the paramedics demanded that the government comply with its promise to implement a salary-related “special status” change.

A meeting with health ministry officials on February 6th “did not lead to an agreement”, according to Ghachi.

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