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Powerful union calls for strike as Tunisia marks revolt anniversary

Tunisia’s powerful UGTT trade union on Monday called for a strike as the country, grappling with economic hardships, marked the eighth anniversary of the 2011 revolution that toppled its longtime dictator.

The Tunisian General Labour Union, the UGTT, called on public sector employees to observe the strike on Thursday — the second since November — to demand a wage rise and economic reforms.

In a speech at the union’s headquarters, secretary general Noureddine Taboubi said the strike should go ahead as talks between the UGTT and the government on social and economic reforms remained deadlocked.

Civil servants represent a sixth of Tunisia’s workforce and in November the UGTT said it was demanding 673,000 state employees receive salary hikes equal to those granted in 2018 to public companies, which range from 15 to 30 euros ($17-34) a month.

But President Beji Caid Essebsi has urged a boycott of the strike.

“It is necessary to stop or limit” strikes, he said, during a visit at the Bardo National Museum where an exhibit was on display to pay tribute to Tunisian revolution which sparked the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

Essebsi added, however, that “we must take into consideration the deteriorating purchasing power of citizens”.

The North African country is seen as having had a relatively smooth democratic transition since the January 14, 2011 toppling of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali after 23 years in power.

At the same time, price hikes fuelled in particular by the fall of the Tunisian dinar, combined with tax increases and stubborn unemployment, have spurred social discontent that escalated into riots across several cities in January last year.

In 2016, the International Monetary Fund granted Tunisia a 2.4-billion-euro loan over the span of four years in exchange for a promise to carry out economic reforms.

The country is grappling with an inflation rate of 7.5 percent and unemployment stands at more than 15 percent, with those worst hit being young university graduates.

Many Tunisians hope there will be change in 2019 when presidential and legislative elections are due to take place.

Meanwhile on Monday, hundreds of Tunisians, including politicians, took to the streets of the capital to celebrate the ousting eight years ago of strongman Ben Ali, gathering in the landmark Habib Bourguiba Avenue in central Tunis.

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