Tunisia's labour union calls for new public service strike

Tunisia’s powerful labour union announced it would hold a second national strike in January to push the government to approve civil sector wage hikes. 
Saturday 24/11/2018
General Secretary of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) Noureddine Taboubi (C) gives a speech during a civil servants strike in the capital Tunis on November 22, 2018. (AFP)
General Secretary of the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) Noureddine Taboubi (C) gives a speech during a civil servants strike in the capital Tunis on November 22, 2018. (AFP)

TUNIS - Tunisia’s powerful labour union announced it would hold a second national strike in January to push the government to approve civil sector wage hikes. 

The Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) announced the plan just two days after 650,000 civil sector workers went on strike November 22, bringing most government functions to a halt. 

The labour group demands $690 million worth of raises for the country’s public sector workers, whose purchasing power has been hit by rising prices and ballooning inflation. Tunisia’s government, under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other lenders to keep spending under control, is against a sharp increase in the public sector wage bill, which is already among the highest in the world. 

UGTT leader Noureddine Taboubi, appearing before supporters at Thursday’s rally, accused the government of caving to international demands while neglecting the needs of the people. 

“You have destroyed these people, you have starved them," Taboubi said..."We will not yield to your liberal choices, we will take campaign decisions and mobilise all sectors.”

Taboubi also said upcoming presidential and legislative elections "are of interest" to the union, without specifying what kind of shape that interest will take.

On Saturday, Chahed said the government was open to a “realistic” pay deal with the labour group, but that it must "take into account the public finances.”

"There is a real problem in the decline in purchasing power and high inflation and the decline of public services.. These will be our priorities in the next period," Chahed told parliament.

Besides Tunisia’s financial troubles, Chahed is embroiled in a deepening political crisis that has split the country’s secularist camp ahead of crucial presidential elections next year, in which he is expected to run. 

To ensure economic progress, he is seeking to reduce the budget deficit to about 4.9% of GDP this year and 3.9% in 2019, from 6.25% last year.

His controversial reforms would include cuts to the public sector, state companies and fuel subsidies.

Tunisia's economy has been in turmoil since the regime of former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in a 2011 uprising sparked by anger at unemployment and poverty. Official figures show inflation at above 7% and real purchasing power to have fallen by about 30% since 2010.