Algeria is witnessing the longest labour protest in its history with the ongoing strike by medical residents in government hospitals. The protest has lasted since November, when the Autonomous Collective of Algerian Medical Residents (CAMRA), an independent union, declared its demands to improve its members’ conditions and abolish compulsory civil service.
Medical residents are doctors who have completed their medical studies, obtained their first graduation certificate and work in hospitals as general practitioners for up to five years. This acts as the training period for the medical specialisation they have opted to pursue. At any one time, there are around 15,000 medical residents in Algeria. When they have finished their chosen specialisation period, they carry out “compulsory civil service”, which is imposed by the government on all doctors. It includes working in remote areas for two to four years, before they can work for themselves in private clinics or obtain permanent posts in government hospitals.
Since the beginning of the strike, resident doctors have repeatedly tried to hold protest marches from the Mustafa Pasha Hospital in the capital. However, the police have orders to prevent them doing this, leading to frequent violent confrontations.
Thirteen meetings between the Ministry of Health and CAMRA have failed to agree on any satisfactory way to end the strike. On 29 April, CAMRA announced that it would boycott dialogue with the ministry on the grounds that the meetings are futile. On the same day, medical residents also stopped working on night shifts at government hospitals and stopped providing the bare minimum level of medical cover. The Ministry of Health has called upon the residents to return to normal working patterns and the dialogue sessions with the government.
At the end of May, CAMRA announced that its members would resume night shifts as from 3 June, a decision which did not mean the end of the strike, it insisted. This decision was overturned last week following the Ministry of Health’s dismissal of 800 medical residents in several government hospitals because of the strike action.
A spokesman for CAMRA, Hamza Boutaleb, told Anadolu that the strikers are determined to continue their protest until their demands are met. “Medical residents have been on strike for seven months and are ready to continue the strike for years if necessary to meet the demands that they have made.” He added that the medical residents’ insistence on fulfilling their demands, especially with regards to civil service, is matched by a sense of openness towards serious dialogue with the Ministry of Health.
Algeria’s Minister of Health, Mokhtar Hasbellaoui, has described the residents’ demands as unreasonable, especially regarding the abolition of civil service. “Nevertheless,” he added, “the doors of dialogue remain open to study all points of disagreement.”
In recent days, the ministry has insisted upon the medical residents returning to work before any dialogue is resumed. This was rejected by CAMRA.
In a 2017 report, the independent Algerian League for the Defence of Human Rights announced that it had recorded around 14,000 civil protests across the country, which were prompted by economic and social conditions. Most of such protests in Algeria are short-lived, with some lasting for one day or even less. The medical residents’ protest, however, has broken all records, despite calls from parties within the ruling alliance as well as the opposition to reach a solution.