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Tunisia: union warns of public sector strike over economic reforms

March 31, 2022 at 11:34 am

Tuinisian workers of UGTT (General Union of Tunisian Workers) attend the opening of the union’s 23rd congress in the capital Tunis [FETHI BELAID/AFP via Getty Images]

Tunisia’s influential General Labour Union (UGTT) has warned of a public sector strike in protest at economic reforms proposed by the government, including cuts in subsidies and the public wage bill. Union head Noureddine Taboubi said on Wednesday that strike action has been approved, and that the UGTT’s national body will meet soon to decide when it will begin.

“We defend the poor and the marginalised,” explained Taboubi. “We will not betray our principles, whatever the price.”

Tunisia has been in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on ways to reduce the budget deficit. A cut in subsidies and the public wage bill is essential, among other measures, insists the Fund. However, the government proposals to freeze wages, privatise state companies and eliminate subsidies in the future are “unacceptable”, says the UGTT.

The World Bank agreed earlier this year to lend $400 million to Tunisia to help about 900,000 vulnerable Tunisian families deal with the health and economic repercussions of the Covid-19 pandemic. Additional finance will continue to provide cash transfers to poor and low-income families, while strengthening the social protection system.

Tunisia has been experiencing political turmoil since July last year, when President Kais Saied suspended parliament, dismissed the prime minister and his cabinet and assumed executive powers. Saied’s measures have been widely rejected by Tunisian political parties, which view them as a “coup” against the Constitution.

According to Mohamed Yassine Jelassi, President of the Tunisian Journalists Union, the authorities have been putting pressure on media outlets to promote and serve Saied’s agenda. This, he explained, threatens a free press and freedom of expression in the country.

READ: Tunisia must rationalise subsidies and control wages to reduce budget deficit, says IMF