Unemployed Tunisians welcome new law critics see as pipe-dream

With difficult economic circumstances made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with an absence of a clear policy since the outbreak of the 2011 uprising, experts do not expect to see the law implemented soon.

Monday 10/08/2020
Tunisian Graduates unemployed hold a demonstration in Tunis, last June. (AP)
Tunisian Graduates unemployed hold a demonstration in Tunis, last June. (AP)

TUNIS – Thousands of jobless Tunisians welcomed parliament’s approval of a bill ensuring those who have been unemployed for at least a decade recruitment by the public sector. But the country’s economic challenges, budget constraints and political instability could prevent the law from taking effect.

The Tunisian parliament responded to pressure from unemployed protesters, hundreds of whom had gathered at its headquarters for months calling for jobs. A total of 159 MPs voted in favour of the bill, with 18 abstentions.

Despite the promises embodied in the bill, there are doubts about the government’s ability to implement it. Supporters of the law consider it to be “an important step” to end the marginalisation of unemployed graduates, granting them a chance to hold public sector positions. Still they see obstacles that could prevent their hopes from becoming a reality, as the law would require a stable government and economy.

Badreddine El-Gammoudi, an MP of the pan-Arabist People’s Movement that supports the law, told the Arab Weekly: “We defended this law and we are aware of the severity of the unemployment rate. Tens of thousands are waiting for this opportunity, and we know that the current situation is making the process difficult as the implementation of such a law requires a minimum level of political stability and an effective government which would be able to revive the economy and create jobs.”

He added: “We also accept our responsibility in providing an economic climate that is convenient for the implementation of this law.” While he conceded that the budget set for 2021 is insufficient to implement its directives, he called on the government to continue carrying out its social role, including job creation.

With difficult economic circumstances made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with an absence of a clear policy since the outbreak of the 2011 uprising, experts do not expect to see the law implemented soon.

Investment fell by 16% in Tunisia this year, according to Caretaker-Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh, while the World Bank expects the country’s economic growth to contract by 6% in 2020 due to pandemic-related disruptions to travel and trade and restrictive social distancing guidelines.

Economic expert Ridha Shakandali believes that while the employment law was created with good intentions, it was put forward at the wrong time.

He told the Arab Weekly: “It is difficult to provide job opportunities under current circumstances, whether in the public or private sector.”

He added that the law’s requirements are arbitrary, reducing citizens’ chances of benefiting from the jobs it claims to offer.

The law is designed to hire unemployed Tunisians who are at least 35 years old and have been jobless for a decade or more. In a family of individuals without jobs, only one member will benefit from the law.

Tunisian media quoted those opposing the law as saying it is “merely an attempt to sell illusions to the unemployed with higher education” and noted that it includes many inaccurate details on what it will provide. Experts note that although some politicians claim  the law could solve the problems of the chronically unemployed, the process is expected to take at least 4 years and will be based on limited budget resources of the government.

According to collected data, economist Moez El-Joudi believes that the law is far from being effective. He points out that it is impossible for the public sector to directly hire people without first ascertaining vacancies. He considers the whole plan a suicidal move that will destroy public finances.

According to Joudi, the public sector is already burdened with a large number of employees, nearly reaching 700,000, whose wages strain the state budget, negatively impacting several needed projects and investments in the country.

He said the plan is an attempt to appeal to unemployed Tunisians, but will be difficult to implement.

For some experts, the crisis is impervious to expedient formulas as it includes an absence of clear employment policies and a a vision for tackling the development gap between Tunisian regions. Romdhane Ben Amor, official spokesman of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, noted that the employment crisis in Tunisia is not related to laws, but to economic and social policies. He added that “creating jobs is not the result that can be achieved by laws but by wealth creation, especially in marginalised regions.”

He added that the solution lies in making changes to the approach for sustainable development.

There are more than 700,000 unemployed Tunisians, according to the most recent official data. More than 33% of those unemployed are graduates of higher education. Due to the health crisis, the government expects the unemployment rate to increase from 15% to more than 21%.