Morocco’s local government employees stage nationwide strike

The unions held the Interior Ministry and the heads of municipalities responsible for the deteriorating working conditions.
Sunday 20/01/2019
A sense of frustration. A Moroccan man protests against social injustice in Rabat. (AFP)
A sense of frustration. A Moroccan man protests against social injustice in Rabat. (AFP)

CASABLANCA - Local government employees in Morocco staged a nationwide strike after negotiations between the government and the country’s main trade unions fell through.

Some 150,000 municipal employees joined civil servants working for the district and other local government institutions in observing a 24-hour strike January 17 to protest what they called “catastrophic” working conditions.

The strike was called by the Moroccan Workers’ Union (UMT), the Democratic Confederation of Labour, the Democratic Federation of Labour and the General Union of Moroccan Workers after the government failed to meet their demands for higher salaries and better working conditions.

Abdennacer Jamal el-Khabbouli, deputy secretary-general of the Democratic Organisation of Local Municipalities, said dialogue with the government had been strained since 2007.

“Many agreements reached with the government in 2007 have not been implemented,” said Khabbouli.

In January 2007, the Interior Ministry and the country’s trade unions agreed to establish mechanisms to improve working conditions and compensation of civil servants and agents of local communities. The agreement would increase hard-work allowances 20-30% and improve allowances for civil servants working in urban and rural communes.

The deal also sought to create a new allowance for employees of certain local authority services and the introduction of performance bonuses.

Today, the unions are demanding the introduction of a statute of public service, an increase in productivity bonuses and salaries and other benefits.

UMT said in a statement that the strike was a “protest against the targeting of trade union freedoms, the right to organise trade unions, the delay in social dialogue and the infringement on workers’ rights.”

The unions said they held the Interior Ministry and the heads of municipalities “responsible for the deteriorating working conditions.”

An employee at a local municipality in the Anfa district of Casablanca said his salary does not meet rising living expenses.

“What would I do with 4,000 dirhams ($418) a month if my wife wasn’t working? I have a mortgage to pay, two kids in a private school and bills to pay,” said Omar, who asked to be referred to only by his first name. He said he hadn’t had a pay raise in more than eight years.

While inflation in Morocco has remained low — an average rate of 1.5% per year the last 10 years — the cost of living has still gone up and socio-economic inequalities are on the rise.

Khabbouli said thousands of employees are experiencing financial hardships and that the government has failed to follow through on promises to improve Moroccans’ standard of living.

Khabbouli called on the government to revalue salaries, which cap at $418 a month for two-thirds of the country’s civil servants.

Government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi, in December, said he government was open to a salary increase of $42 and family allowances of $10 a month.

However, he noted that the previous government increased minimum salaries in 2014-15 and defended government measures that he said had “saved the Moroccan pension fund, which was threatened with bankruptcy.”

That measure, he said, requires an increase in the income tax, which the government is pressing for this year.

“We have proposed to add a point from 2019, which would bring the total levy to 14%,” said Khalfi, who blamed the unions for exacerbating the crisis by refusing to negotiate with the government.

The International Monetary Fund urged Morocco to initiate tax and civil service reforms to reduce its budget deficit.

Khabbouli said the unions are expected to call more strikes this year unless the government takes concrete steps to improve municipal employees’ working conditions.