Labour conflict

Algerian Lafarge workers on hunger strike for over a month

by Olivier Petitjean

Sixteen Algerians employed by Lafarge have been on hunger strike for more than a month. The protest is taking place in front of the Oggaz cement works in the Oran region. They are protesting against their dismissal and the legal proceedings the French company is taking against them following a social movement.

This article was originally published in French. Translation: Stephen Nichols.

At the end of 2013, the factory’s management suspended seventeen workers, accusing them of having “prevented employees wishing to work from entering the factory” and “endangering the integrity of the industrial facilities. [1] The company’s management also began legal proceedings against the employees, claiming more than two million euros in damages from each of them.

The conflict erupted after the failure of collective negotiation between the management and workers last year. The hunger strikers accuse the labour inspection and even the UGTA , Algeria’s official trade union, of pressuring them to dropping their demands. They then organised for a demonstration in the factory to coincide with the visit of the French ambassador and the wali (governor) of Mascara. It was following this demonstration that the factory’s director, a Frenchman named Éric Delquignies, decided to punish the ringleaders and launch a prosecution.

Sixteen of the seventeen workers suspended decided to set themselves up in tents in front of the entrance to the cement works and begin a hunger strike to be reinstated, and to obtain the payment of outstanding wages and the withdrawal of all legal complaints. Their friends and family have offered their support and denounced the local authorities and official trade union’s silence on the matter by organising roadblocks or blocking the factory’s entrance. [2]

When contacted by AFP (Agence France-Presse), the French group’s management in Algiers declined to comment, saying only that the judicial procedure was underway [3]. The various complaints lodged by Lafarge Algeria have culminated in dismissals (with the exception of two sentencings with probation for “preventing the freedom to work”, against which the employees concerned have appealed), but the business has appealed against these decisions.

A conflict which drags on

The Oran office of the Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights (LADDH) organised a gathering in support of the hunger strikers. In a press release, the LADDH denounce “the judicial harassment carried out by Lafarge, which continues to exploit justice” and the “silence of the authorities.” A sit-in in support of the workers also took place in Algiers in front of the head office of Lafarge Algeria.

Oggaz, between Oran and Mascara, is home to one of three cement works owned by the Lafarge group in Algeria, which the company purchased in 2008. According to strikers’ relatives, “the cement works had employed 800 workers and now only 570 are left [...]. The bosses of Lafarge embarked upon a real dynamic of down-sizing which runs counter to their commitments during the takeover.”

According to the French trade union Solidaires, which expressed its support for the Algerian workers, “while production at the site has grown steadily, reaching record levels, the workers must endure increasing workloads, the management’s arrogance and the abandonment of promises to share profits by way of bonuses.”

By December of last year, three of the workers had already attempted self-immolation when the French consul general visited the cement works.

Olivier Petitjean