Labor and Employment
Algeria's rapidly growing labor force of about 5.5 million unskilled agricultural laborers and semiskilled workers in the early 1990s accurately reflected the high rate of population growth. More than 50 percent of the labor force were between fifteen and thirty-four years old. Almost 40 percent of the labor force either had no formal education or had not finished primary school; 20 percent of the labor force had completed secondary school or beyond. Women officially constituted only just over 7 percent of the labor force, but that figure did not take into account women working in agriculture. Unskilled laborers constituted 39 percent of the total active work force, but nonprofessional skilled workers, such as carpenters, electricians, and plumbers, were in short supply because most tended to migrate to Europe. The Bendjedid government tried without much success to entice them to return to their homeland to help the domestic economy--even at the expense of losing their foreign-exchange remittances. Algerian remittances, however, have always been much lower than those of other Maghrib emigrants. Although Algerian workers in France and other EC countries outnumbered other North Africans, their annual remittances were estimated at US$350 million, whereas nonAlgerian transfers amounted to US$2 billion.
The labor force grew at an annual average rate of 4 percent between 1985 and 1990, but the growth in employment has lagged seriously. The result has been acute unemployment and underemployment. Official estimates put the 1990 unemployment rate at 26 percent. (Official figures tended to underestimate actual unemployment because they counted only those males actively seeking work.) In 1990 almost 65 percent of all the unemployed were fifteen to twenty-four years old, raising the unemployment rate within this age bracket to 41 percent. Recognizing that the country's demographics would make youth unemployment a thorny social problem, in 1988 the government established the Youth Employment Program (Programme d'Emploi des Jeunes) to provide jobs and training for youths between sixteen and twenty-four years of age. Because this program failed to meet its target of creating 40,000 training opportunities and 60,000 jobs each year, in 1990 the government initiated two other programs to help establish new enterprises either operated by or employing young people. One program would subsidize, by up to 30 percent of the initial investment, the establishment of new enterprises by young people. The other would guarantee bank loans extended to young entrepreneurs.
Two basic salaries, both paid by the government, set the wage scale for the formal sector and the framework for the rest of the country. The National Guaranteed Minimum Wage (Salaire National Minimum Garanti) was the amount paid by the government to people who were unemployed. The sum constituted what the government considered a basic minimum wage, but it was not legally binding. The minimum wage was introduced in 1978 at DA1,000 per month and was not changed until 1990, when the government and the largest labor union, General Union of Algerian Workers (Union Générale des Travailleurs Algériens--UGTA), agreed to raise the amount to DA1,800 in January 1991 and to DA2,000 in July of the same year. The second salary figure, the Minimum Activity Wage (Salaire Minimum d'Activité), was the minimum paid by the government to its employees; it was considered a minimum for the rest of the formal sector. The same agreement with UGTA incrementally increased this minimum until it reached DA2,500 in July 1991. In a move consistent with its continuing reform policies, the government later decided to decentralize the wage negotiation process. As a result, autonomous public enterprises, which had been required to adhere to the civil service wage scale, were allowed to negotiate independently with their employees.
Algerian workers lacked the right to form multiple autonomous labor unions until the June 1990 Law on Trade Union Activity was passed by the National Assembly, thus ending the monopoly of the FLN party-linked UGTA on labor representation. Another 1990 law on industrial relations provided for collective bargaining, abolishing a previous ban on strikes and guaranteeing workers the right to press their demands. It required, however, that labormanagement disputes be submitted to a conciliation procedure that was administered by the local inspection office but that also provided both parties with recourse to arbitration. If the dispute persisted, workers were allowed to strike after giving eight days' notice. The new legislation also provided managers with a more flexible framework for administering personnel policies, including hiring and firing procedures.
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