There is a shortage of skilled labor in Algeria in all sectors. Business contacts report difficulty in finding sufficiently skilled plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and other construction/vocational related areas. Oil companies report they have difficulty retaining trained Algerian engineers and field workers because these workers often leave Algeria for higher wages in the Gulf. Some white-collar employers also report a lack of skilled project managers, supply chain engineers, and even of sufficient numbers of office workers with requisite computer and soft skills.
Official unemployment figures are measured by the number of persons seeking work through the National Employment Agency (ANEM), and overall unemployment in 2018 held steady from the previous year, at 11.7 percent. However, unemployment is significantly higher among certain demographics, including young people (ages 16-24) at 29.1 percent, up 5.2 percentage points from 2017, and college-educated workers, 27.9 percent. Notably, roughly 70 percent of the population is under 30. Additionally, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that more than one-third of all labor in Algeria is employed in the informal economy. To help train Algerians, including those who did not complete high school, the Ministry of Vocational Training sponsors programs that, according to government figures, offer training to at least 300,000 Algerians annually in various professional programs.
Companies must submit extensive justification to hire foreign employees, and report pressure to hire more locals (even if jobs could be replaced through mechanization) under implied threat of not approving the visa applications for expatriate staff. There are no special economic zones or foreign trade zones in Algeria.
The constitution provides workers with the right to join and form unions of their choice provided they are citizens. The country has ratified the International Labor Organization’s (ILO’s) conventions on freedom of association and collective bargaining but failed to enact legislation needed to implement these conventions fully. The General Union of Algerian Workers (UGTA) is the largest union in Algeria and represents a broad spectrum of employees in the public sectors. The UGTA, an affiliate of the International Trade Union Conference, is an official member of the Algerian “tripartite,” a council of labor, government, and business officials that meets annually to collaborate on economic and labor policy. The Algerian government chooses to liaise almost exclusively with the UGTA, however unions in the education, health, and administration sectors do meet and negotiate with government counterparts, especially under threat of strike. Collective bargaining is permitted under a law passed in 1990 and modified in 1997, but is not mandatory.
Algerian law provides mechanisms for monitoring labor abuses and health and safety standards, and international labor rights are recognized within domestic law, but are only effectively regulated in the formal economy. The government has shown an increasing interest in understanding and monitoring the informal economy, and in 2018 partnered with the ILO on workshops and is cooperating with the World Bank on several projects aimed at better quantifying the informal sector.
Sector-specific strikes occur often in Algeria, though general strikes are less common. The law provides for the right to strike, and workers exercise this right, subject to conditions. Striking requires a secret ballot of the whole workforce, and the decision to strike must be approved by majority vote of workers at a general meeting. The government may restrict strikes on a number of grounds, including economic crisis, obstruction of public services, or the possibility of subversive actions. Furthermore, all public demonstrations, including protests and strikes, must receive prior government authorization. By law, workers may strike only after 14 days of mandatory conciliation or mediation. The government occasionally offers to mediate disputes. The law states that decisions reached in mediation are binding on both parties. If mediation does not lead to an agreement, workers may strike legally after they vote by secret ballot to do so. The law requires that a minimum level of essential public services must be maintained, and the government has broad legal authority to requisition public employees. The list of essential services includes services such as banking, radio, and television. Penalties for unlawful work stoppages range from eight days to two months imprisonment.
In 2018, there were strikes in the beginning of the year, largely in the public health and public education sectors. Medical residents went on strike demanding higher pay, better working conditions, and male residents sought an exemption from mandatory military service requirements. After weeks of strikes, the Ministry of Health made some concessions in terms of additional benefits for doctors, and the residents resumed work. Teachers went on strike for higher pay and complained of perceived inequalities in the pay scale. After weeks of strikes and a closed-door meeting, the Ministry of Education and unions came to an agreement. While the full details of the agreement were not disclosed, teachers noted in broad terms the Ministry expressed a willingness to meet their demands and resumed work.
Stringent labor-market regulations likely inhibit an increase in full-time, open-ended work. Regulations do not allow for flexibility in hiring and firing in times of economic downturn, for example, employers are generally required to pay severance when laying off or firing workers. Unemployment insurance eligibility requirements may discourage job seekers from collecting benefits probably due them, and the level of support claimants receive is minimal. Employers must have contributed up to 80 percent of the final year salary into the unemployment insurance scheme in order for them to qualify for unemployment benefits.
The law contains occupational health and safety standards, however enforcement of those standards may be uneven. There were no known reports of workers dismissed for removing themselves from hazardous working conditions. If workers face such conditions, they are able to file a complaint with the Ministry of Labor, who would then send out labor inspectors to investigate the claim. While this legal mechanism exists, the high demand for employment in the country gave an advantage to employers seeking to exploit employees.
Because Algerian law does not provide for temporary legal status for migrants, labor standards do not protect economic migrants from sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere working in the country without legal immigration status, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation. The law does not adequately cover migrant workers employed primarily in construction and occasionally as domestic workers – however migrant children are protected by law from working.
The Ministry of Labor enforces labor standards, including compliance with the minimum wage regulation and safety standards. Companies that employ migrant workers or violate child labor laws are subject to fines and potentially even prosecution.
The law prohibits participation by minors in dangerous, unhealthy, or harmful work or in work considered inappropriate because of social and religious considerations – as do Algerian norms and practices. The minimum legal age for employment is 16, but younger children may work as apprentices with permission from their parents or legal guardian. The law prohibits workers under age 19 from working at night. While there is currently no list of hazardous occupations prohibited to minors, the government told us a list was being drafted and would be issued by presidential decree. Although specific data was unavailable, children reportedly worked mostly in the informal sector, largely in sales, often in family businesses, and also begging on the streets, or in agricultural work. There were isolated reports that children were subjected to commercial sexual exploitation.
The Ministry of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws. There is no single office charged with this task, but all labor inspectors are responsible for enforcing laws regarding child labor. In 2018, the Ministry of Labor focused one month specifically on investigating child labor violations, and in some cases prosecuted individuals for employing minors or breaking other child-related labor laws. While the government claims to monitor both the formal and informal sectors, contacts note that in reality, their efforts largely land in the formal economy.
The National Authority of the Protection and Promotion of Children (ONPPE) is an inter-agency organization, created in 2016, which coordinates the protection and promotions of children’s rights. As a part of its efforts, in 2018 ONPPE held educational sessions for officials from relevant ministries, civil society organizations, and journalists on issues related to children, including child labor and human trafficking.