Morocco to withhold pay from protestors
By Mawassi Lahcen for Magharebia in Casablanca – 04/04/12
The Moroccan government announced last week that it would restrict pay from protesting employees. The decision met with widespread discontent.
Syndicates described the said action as illegal and contradictory to the Moroccan constitution, which explicitly ensures the right to protest. The government, on the other hand, believes the action is line with the global principle of "pay in return for work", generally recognised worldwide.
Protests have been on the rise in recent weeks in Morocco. They have ranged between 24 and 72 hours and more protests are called for in the coming week, including a protest in the health sector on April 4th and 5th and elementary school teachers protests on April 3rd and 4th.
Protests have flared in Morocco since the global financial crisis in 2007. Conditions deteriorated substantially last year in the wake of the Arab Spring with the spread of demonstrations across the region. Protests in 2011 nearly doubled compared to those in previous years.
Communications Minister Mustapha El Khalfi said in a press conference on March 29th, "The government decided to cut off the pay of protesting employees. [A] ministerial committee… will seek to formulate a global and integrated policy to address the problem of protests."
El Khalfi added that the government would consider the protesters' demands, but still planned to implement the pay cuts.
Al-Arabi Belarabi, undersecretary of the Work Democratic Confederation (WDC), told Magharebia, "The decision to cut off wages so as to curb syndicate action is a step backwards in terms of the government's discourse which promises democracy."
"If the government wishes to be in line with its own discourse, it needs to launch nation-wide dialog with the various classes of society, so as to fully understand the true conditions in society, and the extent of poverty, marginalisation and alienation suffered by large categories of the Moroccan society," he added.
Belarabi added that the government's threat will not be able to halt the wave of protests in Morocco. "Threatening to cut off the pay will not succeed in killing off protests for housing or the soaring cost of water, power, etc., or the protests of the unemployed. What will the Government cut off from those who have no pay, to begin with?"
"It is as if the government is adding fuel to fire," said Baba Al-Netuo, in charge of the health sector at the General Union of Moroccan Workers (UGTM). "The prime trigger of the continued protests is the government's procrastination in implementing the agreements signed with syndicates."
In the 2012 budget currently submitted to the Parliament, the Abdelilah Benkirane cabinet vowed to implement the agreements concluded by the previous governments with the syndicates. The cabinet also noted that the increase in pay, estimated at 14 billion dirhams, based on those agreements, will weigh down heavily on the budget, and inflate the deficit resulting from the subsidy of the local prices of power and raw materials.
Political analyst Nadir Al-Momeni believes that the impact of the expected wage cut-offs will vary by sector. Additionally, the government will bump into a legal problem in attempting to implement it, as such cut-offs are not legally justified.
"The Moroccan constitution ensures the right to protest, and stipulates passing regulations for staging protests. However, all cabinets that came into power since 1962 could not pass a protest-regulating law," Al-Momeni added.
The Benkirane cabinet announced that passing a law for protests was among its top priorities, in addition to a syndicate law, which – according to the government – will seek to upgrade and regulate syndicate work in Morocco.
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