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Tunisia: Public transit workers strike over pay, bonuses

January 2, 2023

The public transport strike paralyzed much of the Tunisian capital, causing the cancelation of some exams. It comes as Tunisia's government struggles to secure a much-needed IMF loan.

A Tunisian woman is pictured next to a tram station in the capital Tunis, on January 2, 2023, after a strike by the public transport employees.
The transport strike brought much of the capital to a standstill, angering many commuters who could not make it to their workplacesImage: Fethi Belaid/AFP

The streets of Tunis nearly came to a standstill on Monday, as public transport workers walked off their jobs in protest against delays in payments.

Transport workers gathered outside the prime minister's office in Kasbah square, accusing the authorities of ignoring their sector's many problems. They singled out particularly the delay in disbursing payments.

The strike affected traffic in the Tunisian capital on the first day of schools and universities after the end-of-term break. Tunisian officials decried the "surprise" strike, and the transport minister blamed it for canceling exams after students could not make it to their educational institutions.

The birthplace of the Arab Spring has recently been reeling from  soaring inflation and increasingly autocratic decisions under the rule of President Kais Saied.

What are the protesters demanding?

The strike was organized by Tunisia's powerful UGTT trade union, with unionists pledging it will be open-ended until demands are met.

Unionist Wajih Zidi said in statements carried by the Tunisian state news agency that the protesters demand their dues, payments, food allowances and end-of-year bonuses which have yet to be disbursed.

"The government has turned its back on the workers' vital demands," Zidi was quoted as saying.

Tunisians are pictured next to a tram station in the capital Tunis, on January 2, 2023, after a strike by the public transport employees.
Tunisian officials condemned the strike, saying it was not adequately announced ahead of timeImage: Fethi Belaid/AFP

Transport Minister Rabie Lemjidi meanwhile said that workers received their salaries and food allowances on December 29 last week. He added, in statements carried by the state news agency, that only the end-of-year bonuses were delayed.

Lemjidi accused the transport union of "storming" the ministry headquarters on December 29, when he vowed to them that the bonuses would be disbursed.

The minister said that his ministry had pledged to pay the bonuses in the early days of this month, without giving a specific date. He said that the Tunisian transport company would take the necessary legal measures regarding the walkout.

What was the impact of the strike?

The strike paralyzed traffic and affected many Tunis commuters. It impacted public buses and trams, angering many citizens who stood by the ticket booths, the state news agency said.

"Today we do not find milk, oil, sugar or coffee. Also now we do not find buses that take us to work. Tunisia has become an unbearable hell," Nejia, a woman waiting at a bus station, told the Reuters news agency.

Tunisians have been struggling for months amid a sharply deteriorating economy which has led to shortages in many staple items.

Rising food prices increase hunger in Tunisia

The government of President Kais Saied, whose July 2021 power grab brought much opposition, has been scrambling to secure a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

However, IMF demands for lifting food and energy subsidies and restructuring public firms have stood in the way of securing the fund, as the politically sensitive prerequisites could further slump Saied's popularity and stir further opposition against his government.

rmt/jcg (AFP, Reuters)