Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Tunisia on national strike called by the UGTT

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Thursday, June 16th 2022 à 15:45 | Read 274 times

The UGTT calls for a national strike
The UGTT calls for a national strike
TUNISIA. On the call of the powerful General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), the public service will observe a strike on Thursday 16 June 2022 in reaction to the deterioration of the material situation of employees and their living conditions.

159 public establishments and enterprises (including all transport sectors) are concerned by this strike. Some 250,000 employees are expected to follow the strike. The movement started on Wednesday 15 June 2022 at midnight and is expected to last until Friday 16 June 2022 at midnight. The UGTT is calling for the preservation of minimum services in the companies it has identified as vital.

According to the Tunisian press, the strike is expected to cost 200 million dinars (€62 million), not including indirect losses.

The union also intends to protest against the situation in the country since the assumption of full powers by President Kaïs Saïed on 25 July 2021, which it had supported. Its leaders are now denouncing a breakdown in dialogue with the President as well as the threats of privatisation and cuts in the civil service planned by the Head of State.

The UGTT refuses to participate in the national dialogue established by the President

Noureddine Taboubi, secretary general of the UGTT, and Kaïs Saïed, the Tunisian president, broke off the dialogue a month ago (photo: DR)
Noureddine Taboubi, secretary general of the UGTT, and Kaïs Saïed, the Tunisian president, broke off the dialogue a month ago (photo: DR)
"I repeat for the umpteenth time and a thousand times if necessary: No to the transfer of public companies, no way to touch them. There is also no question of imposing painful measures that impoverish the people," said Noureddine Taboubi, secretary general of the UGTT at a recent rally in Tunis.

His union wants to participate actively in the reflection on government reforms. "We are not at odds with the presidency and with the post-25 July process, provided we are associated with it," said Anis Samti, secretary general of the Tunisair managers' section of the UGTT, quoted by the Tunisian press.

On 20 May 2022, the President set up a national consultative commission for a new Republic. The commission is composed of three structures: a consultative committee for economic and social affairs composed of representatives of the UGTT, the UTICA (Tunisian Union of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts), the UTAP (Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fisheries), the UNFT (National Union of Tunisian Women) and the LTDH (Tunisian League of Human Rights); a consultative committee for legal affairs (deans of the faculties of law, legal and political sciences); and a committee for national dialogue (members of the two previous committees and coordinator of the national consultative commission, Dean Sadok Belaïd).

But the UGTT did not want to get involved, refusing to "endorse conclusions decided unilaterally in advance and force them through as faits accomplis.

The civil service represents 46% of the state budget

"Everyone knows very well that the UGTT is in favour of the policy of dialogue. But we are opposed to this approach which is not based on the participation of the various actors concerned," said Nourredine Taboubi. The president of the union also said that he had his own reform programme which he considered compatible with the maintenance of the purchasing power of employees, unlike the one proposed by the government.

So many points put forward in the context of discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to obtain the release of a new loan essential to a catastrophic budgetary situation. The Bretton Woods institution estimated in 2018 that "the civil service wage bill was one of the highest in the world". This year, it represented 46% of the state budget.
However, these austerity measures would arrive in a Tunisia in deep economic, social and political crisis. At the end of May 2022, the Tunisian budget deficit was announced at 9.7% of GDP against 6.7% forecast. The country experienced an economic growth of 3.1% in 2021 (-8.7% in 2020) while the forecasts were for only 2.6%. "These results show that the fall in GDP in 2020 was only partially absorbed, since the level of real GDP in the fourth quarter of 2021 is still 4.6 percentage points lower than that of the last quarter of 2019," said the Tunisian National Institute of Statistics (INS).

In October 2021, a report by the Centre d'Étude et de Réflexion sur le Monde Francophone (CERMF) estimated that Tunisia would make "a remarkable and historic entry" into the Top 10 most indebted African countries with a public debt equivalent to 90.20% of its GDP.

No political reforms without the agreement of the UGTT

Long before Tunisia's independence, the weight of the UGTT has always been very important and has enabled it to exercise a counter-power. Its role during the revolution that ousted President Ben Ali in January 2011 proved it again. The UGTT was among the four recipients (along with the Bar Association, the Tunisian League for Human Rights and the employers' union UTICA) of the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2015 for their participation in the national dialogue that led to the post-revolution crisis.

The international rating agency Fitch noted in one of its studies that it would be "very difficult" to "adopt political and economic reforms without the support of the UGTT". The IMF says the same thing, taking for granted that the union is an essential partner in the current negotiations. Especially since it claims 500,000 members in a country of 11.9 million inhabitants.

Started at the end of May 2022, the arm wrestling with the government will therefore continue while the degree of mobilisation of this strike will be a barometer of the country's confidence in Kaïs Saïed. "Who are you? We are the sons of this country, and on June 16 we will see who the real owners are," Noureddine Taboubi shouted at the president during the rally in Tunis.

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