15 April, 2021On 31 March, the Tunisian government and the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) signed an agreement on restructuring public companies and reforming the subsidy and tax system.
The agreement establishes five joint committees to formulate a practical framework for the reforms. These committees are: the Committee for Reform of the Tax System and Establishing Tax Justice as an entrance to Social Justice; The Committee for Necessary Reforms in Public Companies, which will start its work with seven major institutions:
- Tunisian Stevedoring and Handling Company (STAM)
- Tunisian Company of Electricity and Gas (STEG)
- Tunisian steel company (ELFOULADH)
- Tunisian Company for Pharmaceutical Industries (SIPHAT)
- Central Pharmacy of Tunisia
- Office of the state-run lands (ODT)
The Subsidy System Reform Committee, which will deal with subsidizing basic materials and fuel; the Committee for Direct and Indirect Subsidies System; and the Price Control Committee and the Restructuring of Distribution. These represent the most prominent areas of reform, due to their economic importance and the extent to which they are contested.
In a joint press conference announcing the agreement, Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi called agreement “historic and a real start in waging the battle of economic and social reform”, which he considers the most important struggle in Tunisia. The Prime Minister referred to the importance of the participatory and consensual path that led to the agreement.
UGTT secretary general Noureddine Taboubi praised the spirit of responsibility shown by all parties in reaching the historic agreement, saying that it “represents the real start of economic reform, confirming a deep awareness of the need for change”. Taboubi stressed the country's need for urgent and immediate reforms in the fields covered by the committees, especially tax justice, and public companies as a national asset that must be reformed to drive development.
The government also signed an agreement with the employer's organization, Union Tunisienne de l'industrie, du commerce et de l'artisanat (UTICA), on 7 April. Under the agreement, eight joint committees were created to develop a practical framework for the reforms.
These agreements come just before the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Washington, during the second week of April. The Tunisian government is counting on this meeting to obtain a new loan agreement that will enable it to fill the budget deficit and finance the economy.
Habib Hazami, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union textile and garment affiliate FGTHCC-UGTT said,
“Given the economic and social difficulties that the country is experiencing in the shadow of Covid-19 and in the face of the economic downturn and deteriorating conditions, we are counting on this agreement in the private sector as well. We hope that the work of these committees will lead to a clear vision and practical conclusions, especially with regard to the tax system and achieving social justice. The textile sector is one of the most prominent sectors that suffer shortcomings in this regard and it need consistent measures to achieve economic and social recovery.”
Tahar Berberi, general secretary of metalworkers’ affiliate FGME-UGTT said:
"The Tunisian steel company is one of the important pillars of the national metal sector, and it employs 1,200 workers. We have always called for restructuring the company in order to raise its efficiency, maintain jobs and secure the workers’ future. This agreement is an important step in the right direction and we hope that the government will fulfill its obligations and implement it."
Picture: Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and UGTT general secretary Noureddine Taboubi hold copies of the signed agreement. (Tunisian prime minister’s office)