Hassi R'Mel, Algeria's largest natural gas field, was discovered in 1956 alongside the Hassi Messaoud oil field, and has also been operated by state-owned company Sonatrach ever since. Production of natural gas started in 1961, and in 1964 Algeria became the first country to export liquefied natural gas (LNG). Natural gas from Hassi R’Mel is supplied to Morocco, Spain, Portugal, Tunisia, Italy, and Slovenia through three major export pipelines.
Workers and unemployed youth have been largely unsatisfied with the working conditions and practices of Sonatrach in Hassi R'Mel as well as with their respective company trade unions. Since 2010, they have been protesting their working conditions as well as the generally high unemployment rate by organizing hunger strikes, blockades and boycotts affecting Sonatrach's operations.
In 2010, a group of young unemployed people went on a hunger strike for a week in order to protest against favouritism in employment procedures especially in relation to the oil exploration activities by Sonatrach. As their main reason for starting the hunger strike they stated that they wanted to protest unemployment.
At the end of 2011, almost 2,000 workers of Sonatrach living in the Hassi R'Mel region went on a hunger strike and decided to boycott all the reunions and activities of their company's trade union. They were demanding a 50% salary raise.
After a long range of hunger strikes and protests, a salary agreement was finally concluded between the general directorate of Sonatrach and their social partner. The concessions made by Sonatrach were “not enough”, according to comments of workers.
In 2013, yet another group of Sonatrach workers went on a hunger strike to demand for better working conditions. To affirm their support for their colleagues, more than 400 resident workers of Sonatrach living in Hassi R'Mel staged a protest outside the company's production directorate administrative complex.
The conflict between Sonatrach and local resident workers as well as unemployed youth groups does not seem to come to an end in the near future as concessions previously made were mainly deemed not satisfactory by the workers.