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Algeria: Threats soar against democratic unions after ILC

20 June, 2018Severe labour rights’ violations continue in Algeria with relentless pressure and intimidation against independent unions. It comes as the Algerian Minister for Labour, Mourad Zemali, has threatened to leave the International Labour Organization (ILO), following the Organization’s decision to send a high-level mission to meet independent unions in the country.

Zemali’s warning to leave the ILO comes after Algeria came under scrutiny for violations of freedom of association at the ILO’s International Labour Conference (ILC), from 28 May to 8 June 2018.

Zemali said that “Algeria is ready to leave the International Labour Organization to preserve its national sovereignty.”

It is the fourth time in five years that Algeria has been examined by the ILO’s Committee of Applications of Standards (CAS) at the ILC. The conclusions of the Committee recommended a high-level mission to Algeria without restriction and without delay, after a direct contact mission in February was cancelled when no guarantee could be given to the ILO to meet independent trade unions.

Speaking at a press conference on 12 June, Zemali also singled out independent union leaders Raouf Mellal, President of IndustriALL Global Union energy affiliate, SNATEG, and Rachid Maalaoui of public sector union, SNAPAP, for attack saying they were behind the ‘hounding’ of Algeria by the ILO. Both men had spoken out against trade union repression at the CAS in June.

SNATEG has strongly condemned the minister’s outburst, and denounced his claims that the democratic union leaders only represented themselves and were trying to destabilize the country.   

“The Algerian people have the right to know that, unlike the labour minister who was not elected by the people, the president of the national union of electricity and gas workers, Mr Mellal Raouf, was elected by a majority of participants in accordance with applicable laws.”

According to SNATEG, the Ministry has ordered state-run electricity company, Sonelgaz, not to adhere to a judgment to reinstate Mellal as shop steward, nor to recognize him as president of SNATEG. Furthermore, the Ministry of Labour has twice attempted to illegally dissolve the union.

“The Minister of Labour, in his declarations, considers that the freedom to exercise the rights of trade unionists is a blow to the stability of the country,” said SNATEG in a statement on 14 June, adding that trade union freedoms have become nothing more than an ‘illusion’ in Algeria.

Since the conclusions of the Committee of the Application of Standards were made, Algeria has turned up the pressure on independent unions. As well, as attacking democratic union leaders in the press, Raouf Mellal, who has already been sentenced to 18 months in prison for whistleblowing and trade union activities, has been give three summons to appear before the courts before the end of July 2018 on yet more spurious charges.

IndustriALL’s assistant general secretary, Kemal Özkan, said:

“Algeria is showing its contempt for the ILO and international labour standards. It is not a question of impinging national sovereignty but of upholding basic trade union freedoms, enshrined in international labour conventions that have been ratified by Algeria itself. We urge the Algerian government to stop the repression of independent trade unions, accept an ILO high-level mission, and open the doors to dialogue with its labour partners.”