An Algerian government decision that requires graduate workers hired on “pre-employment contracts” to waive their degrees in exchange for the guarantee of a permanent job has provoked controversy.
Officials say the government has for years been trying to stop the costly programme, under which university graduates get jobs on contracts paid for by the state and later transition to a permanent job.
The new decision requiring graduate workers hired on such contracts to waive their degrees in exchange for permanent employment means that in effect they will be accepting jobs at levels beneath their qualifications.
Students are split in their reactions to the new condition.
Mehdi Kadri, a graduate of the University of Blida 2 Lounici Ali, at El Affroun, southwest of Algiers, told Al-Fanar Media: “Our university studies cannot be wasted for the sake of a government plan to silence us and get rid of the pre-employment contracts. We will continue the struggle until this condition is dropped.”
Kadri, who has a master’s degree in history, has been organising sit-ins in front of government offices to demand that the condition be dropped, and that graduates be employed at a level that respects their degrees.
“Our university studies cannot be wasted for the sake of a government plan to silence us and get rid of the pre-employment contracts. We will continue the struggle until this condition is dropped.”Mehdi Kadri A master’s degree holder from the University of Blida 2 Lounici Ali
Algeria adopted the pre-employment contract policy ten years ago. It was intended to give temporary jobs to graduates of universities, institutes, and public schools until they could transition into a permanent job.
Ramzi Benseraj, a human resources expert, told Al-Fanar Media that the pre-employment contracts stipulate that graduates between the ages of 19 and 35 can take a temporary job in the public or private sector, so long as Algeria’s Employment Directorate pays a monthly stipend to the employer for a specified period.
He said the monthly grants start out between 8,000 and 12,000 Algerian dinars (worth about $54 to $82 at current exchange rates) and can later be increased to 18,000 Algerian dinars ($123). By comparison, Algeria’s minimum wage is 20,000 dinars ($137) a month.
Under the contracts, university graduates can be employed for a fixed term, or for open periods, before being integrated into a permanent job.
Benseraj added that there was no clear provision in the law regarding such contracts that obliges Algerian institutions to guarantee young workers jobs.
“Their fate remains unknown to them,” he said, and in many cases, the contract term expires without the job converting to a permanent one.
“This makes these young people vulnerable to various psychological disorders and social instability throughout the contract period, which usually lasts for three years,” said Benseraj. “Moreover, the monthly grant does not meet their needs.”
Early Hopes Meet a New Condition
Graduate employees work for years without knowing if they will be offered a permanent job. “This makes these young people vulnerable to various types of psychological disorders and social instability throughout the contract period.”Ramzi Benseraj A human resources expert
After years of waiting to discover whether they will be permanently employed, graduate workers are now learning that the government wants them to give up their university degrees as a condition for getting a permanent job at a lower level than their education would entitle them to.
Bouthaina Rehrah, a media and communication graduate from the University of Mohamed Lamine Debaghine–Setif 2, told Al-Fanar Media: “We initially believed that all pre-employment contracts ended with automatic employment after working the contracted years. We offered what we have to achieve the goals of the institution we are working for. Then we hear of this new condition.”
Rehrah said she would not give up her university degree or allow anyone to negotiate it away because it was “a sacred thing.”
Rania Haddad, who has a master’s degree in biology from Badji Mokhtar University–Annaba, in northeastern Algeria, also protested the new condition, arguing that it had no legal basis.
But Benseraj, the human resources expert, said that officials were getting round that legal point by making graduate workers sign written pledges to waive their degrees when they seek permanent jobs.
Sihem Ben Djaaider, a legal and administrative sciences graduate from Mohamed El Bachir El Ibrahimi University, Bordj Bou Arreridj, is one graduate worker who yielded to the new condition.
She told Al-Fanar Media that after nine years of contract work, she accepted permanent employment in exchange for giving up her university degree because of Algeria’s difficult economic conditions (the youth unemployment rate was over 30 percent last year) and “the lack of opportunities and hope for the future.”
She realised that giving up her university degree was the only way to get a stable job, she said.
The large number of degree holders working under pre-employment contracts necessitated a solution that balanced the cost of fully employing them with the state budget. “This resulted in the requirement to waive a university degree.”Abdellatif Saleh, An official with a local employment agency in eastern Algeria
Similarly, Hekima Nouari, an economic sciences graduate, said she and her husband agreed to take permanent employment at a lower level “to avoid remaining in the waiting room for years if we did not accept the waiver condition.”
A Balancing Act
Abdellatif Saleh, an official with a local employment agency in eastern Algeria, said the government had been trying for three years to stop pre-employment contracts and provide stable jobs for these workers.
He told Al-Fanar Media that the large number of degree holders working under pre-employment contracts necessitated a solution that balanced the cost of fully employing them with the state budget. “This resulted in the requirement to waive a university degree,” he said.
Saleh said the waiver was optional. It was an exceptional implementation of a decision made in October 2020 that was approved by the General Directorate of Public Service and Administrative Reform.
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He said the decision made it possible for employers to give graduate workers permanent jobs at levels beneath their qualifications so long as they had expressly agreed. “Accordingly, they can never demand to review their administrative status in the future.”
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