The Algerian Ministry of the Interior announced on Monday to suspend and prosecute 230 firefighters who demonstrated the day before in Algiers for the improvement of their working and salary conditions, in a degraded social climate. This decision is likely to fuel the social tensions which have been accumulating for several weeks in Algeria.
“These 230 agents (of Civil Protection) are suspended first, then, secondly, they will be prosecuted for having broken the law,” promised a statement from the Ministry of the Interior. They are accused of having violated the “special status of officials belonging to specific bodies of Civil Protection”. Firefighters, like police officers, do not have the right to strike or to demonstrate.
A violently repressed march
The Ministry of the Interior denounces “a betrayal of duties and responsibilities with the aim of destabilizing and discrediting this profession”. He urges the Civil Protection agents, who are part of the constituted bodies, not to follow the calls “which aim to destabilize this institution”.
On Sunday, several hundred Civil Protection agents, most of them firefighters, marched in uniform not far from the headquarters of the Algerian presidency in El Mouradia. In particular, they demanded the release of one of their own, arrested the same day without explanation. The march was violently repressed by the police, according to statements by firefighters relayed on social networks.
Firefighters complain that their basic salary is only 15,000 dinars while the national guaranteed minimum wage (SNMG) has been 20,000 dinars (just over 125 euros) since 2020. The Confederation of Algerian Trade Unions considers that a decent minimum wage is expected to reach four times as much.
In addition, the firefighters say they work 80 hours a week, while the legal weekly working time is 40 hours. As early as Sunday, the Interior Ministry issued a press release in which it qualified the march of the firefighters as “illegal” and referred to “a plot against the country”, a recurring accusation against any dissenting voice in Algeria.
In response, agents of the Civil Protection of Béjaïa, in Kabylia (north-east), denounced the “false” press release from the Ministry of the Interior which “demonized” them, and they announced a national demonstration on May 9 in Alger. While his Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud wielded the baton, President Albdemadjid Tebboune on Sunday called on his government to open “a dialogue” with the social partners in an attempt to extinguish the rising social anger.