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Tunisian unions strike against IMF austerity

17 January, 2019Tunisian union federation the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) is taking strike action in the civil service and public sector today after failing to agree a wage increase with the government.

The strike, which covers 670,000 workers, follows a one day stoppage in November 2018 and has hit airports, ports, schools, hospitals, state media and government offices, with many Tunisair flights cancelled. Wages have failed to keep up with rising prices, leading to a decline in purchasing power.

The UGTT announced yesterday that after “painful” negotiations consisting of more than 100 sessions, the strike would go ahead. Despite concessions made by the UGTT, the government had “stubbornly failed to address major economic and social issues such as tax evasion, the huge deficit of social security funds, the informal economy, inflation and the decline of purchasing power of Tunisians.”

The government said it cannot agree to pay raises due to its commitment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cut government spending and balance the budget. Tunisia receives vital aid from the IMF contingent on economic reforms.

During negotiations, the government delegation withdrew many times to consult with the IMF, thousands of miles away, leading some in the UGTT to propose that the union negotiate directly with the IMF, given the government’s lack of competence. The UGTT says that the government is being dictated to by the IMF, shows an unwillingness to address burning issues, and lacks a comprehensive economic and social vision.

The UGTT dismissed a government offer of an 80 dinars ($27) per month wage rise, calling for a rise of 270 dinars ($91). A last minute attempt to break the deadlock on 16 January lasted only a few minutes.

In a letter to the UGTT and IndustriALL Global Union affiliates, general secretary Valter Sanches said:

“It is regrettable to hear that the last minutes negotiations with the government have not reached any agreement on a wage increase for public sector workers.

“We share with the UGTT the firm belief that public sector workers are entitled to and deserve a decent wage increase, similar to the agreements concluded with the private sector and workers at state-owned companies. Public sector workers face the same challenges as purchasing power erodes rapidly due to soaring prices.”