Tahar Belabes: Algerian youths need motivation
Interview by Fidet Mansour for Magharebia in Algiers – 17/06/11
A young jobless man's suicide in Ouargla last week sparked a wave of protests and brought to the fore the persistent problem of unemployment in the southern Algerian town. Despite the abundance of natural resources, the city is unable to put educated youths to work. To address the paradox, Magharebia sat down with Tahar Belabes, a spokesman of the National Committee for the Rights of the Unemployed (CNDDC).
Magharebia: Can you tell us about your organisation and the reasons why it was created?
Tahar Belabes: The CNDDC fights for unemployed people's moral and material rights. The committee, set up on February 4th, 2011, is an autonomous and democratic forum, open to all people, male and female, who support our plans and demands.
Our main demands include decent work, unemployment benefits worth 50% of the national minimum wage, total transparency in the advertising of jobs, plus an end to military service for 25-year-olds and the reduction of military service to a period of 6 months.
Magharebia: Over recent days, life in Ouargla has been dominated by youth protests pressing for work and a decent living. What is the situation in the region like now?
Belabes: It is very tense; the authorities have deployed a lot of security forces out on the streets. The city is on lockdown, in response to the anger of young people who took to the streets and organised rallies and sit-ins. The authorities have done nothing to calm these angry people. The doors to dialogue were shut, just as the news of the first suicide attempts started leaking through on the streets of Ouargla.
On Thursday (June 9th), a young man aged 30 hanged himself inside his own home. On March 16th, a young man aged 20 took his life in the same way in Hassi Messaoud. Meanwhile, activists from the CNDDC are being harassed and prosecuted. We deplore this attitude, which only exacerbates the situation.
Magharebia: Despite a vast number of energy companies, the city suffers from a high unemployment rate. How do you explain this?
Belabes: This is exactly what we oppose. We find it difficult to understand the reasons behind this exclusion. These companies, whether Algerian or foreign-owned, recruit from a very closed circle. In particular, it's closed to young people from the region, under the false pretext of skills. I assure you that more than 50% of the protesters have degrees, but they have been struggling to find work in the oil companies, who prefer to recruit graduates from other wilayas in the north. We're not regionalist, not at all. We are simply demanding our right to work.
Magharebia: Perhaps these companies need technicians in highly specialised areas such as petrochemicals, whereas your wilaya doesn't have an institute or training centre that focuses on this sector.
Belabes: For the past seven years, we have constantly been calling for the creation of a petrochemicals institute in Ouargla, but unfortunately the authorities have turned a deaf ear to our continued requests. Every year, nearly 45,000 paid jobs are created in the wilaya, mainly in the oil companies. It might seem like a huge number, but in reality it doesn't benefit young people in Ouargla. Moreover, some of these jobs don't require a university education. Why not give young people a chance?
Magharebia: Have you been in contact with local authorities?
Belabes: We have presented a raft of demands to the officials. But once the riot police were deployed, all contact was broken. We fear the worst, and we're turning to the highest powers in the country to react and listen to youths who aspire to a decent life and a bright future. Unemployment is leading our young people into exile through illegal emigration. Algeria needs to hold on to its skills base by guaranteeing people the minimum, namely a job and a decent income.
Magharebia: Does the committee have any control over the protestors?
Belabes: For now yes, but the truth is that everything will depend on what the authorities do.
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