SYRIA

Opposition-held Aleppo workers protest unpaid wages

Rumbling social discontent boiled over this week in zones held by the Syrian opposition in the northern city of Aleppo. Dozens of workers, angry about frequent delays in their salary payments, have organised numerous sit-ins at the interim government’s headquarters.

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Workers protest in Aleppo to ask for their wages to be paid. Photo sent by Abu Maher al-Waleed.

Rumbling social discontent boiled over this week in zones held by the Syrian opposition in the northern city of Aleppo. Dozens of workers, angry about frequent delays in their salary payments, have rganised sit-ins at the interim government’s headquarters.

Since July 2012, Aleppo has been divided between government forces and multiple rebel factions regrouped under the banner of the Free Syrian Army. In March 2013, a council made up of civil sociey local representatives took over the day-to-day administration of the rebel-controlled part of the town. The council tries hard to keep up a semblance of normal life in its part of Aleppo, despite the barrel bomb attacks regularly carried out by the Syrian regime’s army. It employs dozens of workers who take care of transportation, trash collection, and the maintenance of electrical and water sanitation systems.

The interim government of the Western-backed Syrian Opposition Coalition, which is exiled in Turkey, contributes to the council’s budget, which is used to pay these workers’ salaries. However, for the past few months, these payments have been sent more than two weeks late. The city workers are outraged by the situation, especially since the prices of basic items – food, in particular – are skyrocketing in Aleppo.

“This month, not only were we paid late, we also only received half of our salaries”

Abu Maher al-Waleed is the head of communications for Aleppo’s local council of the opposition.

Aleppo’s local council employs 600 administrators and workers. The total monthly cost of these salaries can reach up to $85,000 (about 70,000 euros) with each worker earning between $130 and 150 (100 and 120 euros) a month.

Since the council was first established in March 2013, our monthly salaries have always been paid late – between the 15th and the 20th of each month. But this month, it got even worse. Not only were we paid late, we also only received half of our salaries. Most of the workers were outraged and refused to accept this money, instead demanding to be paid their full salaries.

Workers fixing a sewage system in Aleppo. Photo posted on the local council's Facebook page.

We held protests for three days in front of the seat of the local council. The late pay days weren’t the only thing we were protesting. The council also has a budget to pay for the tools and material necessary for our various jobs. However, these payments are often up to a month late so this causes delays at all of our construction sites.

The interim government has not yet responded to our grievances. If the government remains mute, we will simply have to protest more. So it’s very likely that we’ll organise a march in the upcoming days.

“We aren’t ordinary workers”

Abu Hassan, a plumber, is one of the workers protesting.

I am married with four children and my salary is $120 (about 90 euros) a month. This ridiculously low amount isn’t even enough to last one week considering the cost of life here.

For example, I need to buy a new jerry can of fuel for the kitchen, which costs about $60 (about 50 euros). Once I pay that, I’ll have little left for the rest of the month. I already have debts with my neighbourhood’s baker and the fruit and vegetable vendor.

I think that the politicians in the interim government don’t value our work. We aren’t ordinary workers. We try hard every day to make life better for the local residents by maintaining a minimum of public services. By doing that, we are constantly putting our lives at risk while the members of the interim government are sitting behind their desk in Turkey and get salaries at least ten times bigger than ours.

Workers fixing the electrical system after it was damaged by shelling. Photo posted on the local council's Facebook page.

We would like a raise in our salaries – just enough to have a decent life. We’d also like larger budgets for buying material. It’s important for our safety. My specialisation is working on the pipe network that carries our drinking water. Sometimes my team and I have to work with manual tools, notably axes and pickaxes. Because of that, we have to spend two days instead of three hours on certain sites, under constant threats from bombings by the regime.

I could have left the country and gone to work in Europe like many other Syrians have since the war started. I’ve heard that plumbers are very well paid there. But I decided to stay in order to help my compatriots during difficult times. It’s a shame that our leaders don’t value that more.

A week ago, a barrel bomb exploded about 50 metres from us while we were working. The strangest part was that no one in my team seemed to be worried by it at all. It’s become that commonplace! We are stuck in this situation and we feel as if our government has abandoned us.

FRANCE 24 tried to speak with the interim government minister in charge of the administration of these local councils. He has not yet responded to our questions.