Algerian railways paralyzed by strike over pay

Algiers–Algeria’s rail network was at a standstill on Tuesday because of an indefinite strike by railways workers demanding a pay rise, in a fresh sign of social tensions in the energy-exporting North African country.

In the past six months, mounting public anger over rising prices, unemployment and poor housing has led to a wave of strikes. Doctors, teachers, public servants and industrial workers have launched industrial action demanding pay rises.

Algeria does not use its railway network to export oil or oil products and there was no sign that exports were affected.

According to witnesses and media reports, 100 percent of trains scheduled for Tuesday were cancelled, and the major stations in the capital, Hussein Dey and Agha were closed.

“We will continue the strike. We won’t stop as long as our demands are not dealt with,” Abdelghani, a railway worker who did not want his family name published, told Reuters.

The estimated 10,000 employees of the state owned SNTF railway network are demanding an increase in wages and benefits. Management quoted by Algerian media said the firm was suffering a financial crisis and could not increase wages.

Algeria has large cash reserves from oil and gas exports, and the government has provided substantial pay increases to public sector workers. But workers frequently complain that high inflation cancels out the increases.

Consumer price inflation in OPEC member Algeria, Africa’s fourth-biggest economy, was 5.7 percent last year against 4.4 percent in 2008, according to official figures.

The railway strike, which was in its third day on Tuesday, was causing major disruption for commuters.

“I usually take the 7:10 a.m. train from Corso (50 km east of the capital) to Algiers, but since the beginning of the strike I have been taking the bus,” Salima, who works for a private firm in Algiers, told Reuters.

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