Algeria implemented several measures to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, which have inevitably had an impact on the social protection system.
The COVID-19 pandemic accentuated the need for reform of Algeria’s social protection system – particularly in terms of how the system is financed. The first few months of 2020 were accompanied almost everywhere in the world by a series of policy measures whose purpose was to confront the pandemic. In Algeria, the speed with which the measures and policies were formulated and implemented highlighted the state’s capacities in terms of expanding the reach and the level of social benefits. In March 2020, Algeria’s High Security Council decided to implement a total lockdown of the city of Blida as a preventive measure against the spread of COVID-19. Other cities were also locked down as the number of cases rose. This resulted in the isolation of whole cities, as was the case in Blida. The emergency measures also allowed for a relative improvement in terms of the protection of populations against the economic shock.
While the efficiency of the hurried COVID-19 policy responses and measures are debatable, they were successful in partially absorbing the economic shock. For example, the government emergency programme of cash transfers of DZD 10,000 (equivalent to approximately $75) to support the poorest people reached approximately 2.2 million families. Another measure consisted of wage support for those unable to work in the pandemic. While this was publicly financed, the administration encouraged private sector companies to use their own finances to fund absent employees. This decision damaged both the production apparatus and caused losses for enterprises.
The pandemic and lockdown had a disproportionate impact on workers in the informal sector, particularly daily labourers or workers, waiters in the tourism sector, transport workers, domestic workers and cleaners, as well as construction workers. Furthermore, the closures and lockdowns severely impacted street vendors and their dependents. These individuals could neither benefit from paid leave schemes granted by the government nor from other social services.
In order to apply social distancing rules, administrations and public institutions were obliged to put at least 50 per cent of their staff on exceptional leave, giving priority to women, chronically ill people and those whose presence in the workplace was not imperative.
Additionally in 2022, in order to strengthen the population’s purchasing power, the government increased the minimum wage to DZD 20,000 ($147) and introduced an income-tax exemption for those earning less than DZD 30,000 ($221). The government also provided an income top-up for healthcare workers, including medical physicians, nurses and technicians. Furthermore, the government strengthened national grain stocks by providing significant financial support to the Algerian Interprofessional Cereals Office (OIAC), estimated at more than DZD 900 billion ($6.65 billion) in 2021 and 2022.
Although the government’s efforts to address the socio-economic fallout of COVID-19 may have helped the beneficiaries of state measures, it is evident that it was challenging to identify certain vulnerable groups, such as informal sector workers. Some of those who missed out on government pandemic support benefited from the services provided by non-state actors, such as local and national associations. The Algerian government issued numerous executive decrees during the pandemic in support of the population and businesses, including:
- The extension of the deadline for social security contributions to 30 days. This measure provided relief to employers, giving companies more time to manage their finances without compromising their legal obligations to contribute to the social security system;
- The postponement of social contribution payments for non-employees by 90 days, from 30 June 2020 until 30 September 2020;
- The suspension of penalties for a period of six months and the extension of deadlines, from August 2021 until 31 January 2022 for the CNAS and CASNOS schemes;
- Tailored payment schedules according to the case and the situation of each company in respect of previous debts to the CNAS and CASNOS social security schemes; and
- The granting of annual leave in advance for construction, public works and hydraulics workers affiliated to CACOBATH, in proportion to the number of months worked during the period from July 2019 to February 2020.
In terms of healthcare, Abdelmadjid Bennacer, a former director general of the National Social Security Fund for Salaried workers (CNAS), noted that:
To assess Algeria’s COVID-19 response compared to other MENA countries, a useful tool is the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia (UNESCWA) COVID-19 stimulus tracker, which contains standardized data on policy responses to the pandemic worldwide. By using these figures, it is possible to evaluate and compare Algeria’s COVID-19 policy performance.