Rights of Journalists and Collective Bargaining in Algeria: IFJ Workshop, June 8-11th, 2005

Capacity Building of Journalist’s Unions and Associations in the Middle East, North Africa and Gulf Region

Mission conducted by: Britta Søndergaard, Danish Union of Journalists

This event was supported by the European Commission and International Media Support.

Objectives of the mission.

• To get a better understanding of the situation of the journalists in Algeria

• To exchange experiences in a seminar for journalists concerning organisation of work and collective bargaining

• To discuss a national seminar and training workshop

Summary of the workshop report

About 15 people from different medias were present to discuss the judicial rights of journalists and the issue of collective bargaining.

The first speech was held by the advocate of Youcef Dilem. Among his conclusions were, that the problem is not the press law in itself, but also to a great extent the lack of organisation among the journalists.

Britta Søndergaard presented the Danish Trade Union of Journalists, its history and the special Danish model, where employees and employers agree on the ground rules in contrast to many other countries, where such issues are regulated by law.

The speach on collective bargaining was held by an expert in the field, Cherif Soami, who in the past has inspector of work and consultant in the field of labour laws.

The Algerian Labour Law is in many ways similar to the French Labour Law:

The employee is guaranteed certain fundamental rights, a minimum wage, the right to form free unions, the right to strike under certain conditions.

Although the idea of a collective agreement is not very widespread in the medias, it is actually a right. The law from 1997 states that every sector has its own right of collective agreement.

In the 90ies they were actually made collective agreements in some of the state medias:

- El Majhed ( stateowned newspaper)

- APS (The state owned news agency)

- The national TV

- The national radio

The problem is that these agreements do not work in practice. As a journalist employed at the national news agency, APS, could tell, the rules of the collective agreement are not followed at all. One of the problems is that the news agency does not have a shop steward, whom the employees could address in case of labour problems. In other words - there is a collective agreement in at least four of the state owned medias - but is has no relevance, as there is no institutional body to see that the agreement is kept.

An other question was raised at the workshop: The directors of the medias are not organized, so the journalists have no counterpart with whom they could negotiate a collective agreement. Cherif Souami pointed out that in case there is no counterpart, the journalists have the right to go to the Algerian ministry of labour to find a solution.

At the moment the government has established a commission, that should make the base for a change of the labour law. Cherif Souami recommended that the SNJ follows this process carefully.

The situation of the Algerian Syndicate of Journalists (SNJ)

The board of the union has 10 members at the moment. Three live in the province outside Algiers. Three members have left the country. At the moment SNJ plans a congress in the end of 2005. Here a new board will be elected.

The union has about 1000 members, and the number of members is growing at the moment. As mentioned in the report made by IFJ after the first Algeria Launch Mission in January, the Algerian journalists have paid a very high prize for defending democratic values in the nineties. The present regime has made a crackdown on free media. The newspaper Le Matin was closed down one year ago, and its editor Mohamed Benchicou is still imprisoned.

A special court has been organized to trial the journalists every Tuesday, and many of the independent journalists are confronted to more than fifteen legal cases each, in which they are personally attacked by the Algerian State. For instance Kamel Armani from the board of the union has been condemned to 6 months suspended prison for his writings.

Naturally defending the freedom of press is one of the main priorities of the Algerian Syndicate of Journalists.

After the harsh years in the nineties, there is a certain fatigue and lack of illusions among many journalists. They do their day to day work, but the harsh conditions also risks to impose a strong self censorship- although the Algerian press has a high standard.

As some of the members of the board point out, there is also a strong need to build up a union, that could help the journalists in their daily needs.

According to Djamila Kourta from the board, it is necessary to go new ways. She could imagine a union that would create some advantages for its members in their daily lives. As for instance assist with housing (a great problem in Algeria), pension schemes, assistance in negotiating wages and collective bargaining.

At the moment the union is hampered by lack of finances. The membership fee is only 6 Euro pr. year, so at present the board is seeking sponsors to hold the next congress. It is therefore essential to find a system for collecting a higher membership fee. A task that would be a lot easier in case the union could make some offers for its members.

For the time being the Algerian Federation of Journalists have various partners:

- The Embasssy of United States is involved in a partnership traning journalists in different medias in English

- The German National Union is offering training in trade union building

- The Belgian Journalist Association is planning legal training.

- The Konrad Adenauer Foundation has been assisting with workshops on press ethics.

The board of SNJ has a very clear idea, how the Danish Union of Journalists could assist in trade union developing. That is:

• To assist in strenghtening the building of the union in the different medias

• Traning on wage policies and labour issues

• To provide cycles of training workshop to shop stewards on collective bargaining

• To work for recruitment of legal assistance to trailed journalists.

• To assist in making a workshop on the relations between press and justice.

This event was organised with the support of the European Commission and International Media Support. The views expressed during the event are those of the International Federation of Journalists.

Further information: +32 2 235 22 06