After delegating discussions with employers and unions to the government for several months, President Kaïs Saïed received Noureddine Taboubi, secretary general of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the boss of the bosses, Samir Majoul, president of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Commerce and Handicrafts (UTICA), on 12 September.
A way for the Head of State to pose as an arbiter of the debates, and to appeal to the goodwill of the union, as of the employers. No statement was made at the end of the interview, maintaining the vagueness on the progress of the negotiations.
Before any negotiation for a new loan of 4 billion dollars in In favor of Tunisia, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) demanded that the powerful trade union federation (UGTT) ratify the reform plan presented by the Bouden government. Among the measures planned, the lifting of State compensation on basic products including hydrocarbons, the freezing of civil service salaries and the sale of public companies.
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Since December 2021, this point has been a veritable Gordian knot that neither the government nor the UGTT seem able to undo. The representatives of the State suggest moving as quickly as possible towards an agreement in order to tick one more box in the list of steps required by the IMF.
But the central trade union, which remains one of the intermediary bodies still active after President Kaïs Saïed dismissed most of them, prioritizes the implementation of the social agreements ratified previously, and a revision of wages in view of the deterioration in the purchasing power of Tunisians.
The authorities have of course the repeated demands of the UGTT but are unable to respond to them: the state coffers are empty, not to mention that the change of regime initiated by the president induces social reforms which remain unclear. .
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In this inextricable situation, the government chose to reduce confrontations with the representatives of the UGTT to a minimum, and contented itself with their to transmit the directives of President Kais Saied.
Government circular no. 20, which since December 2021 has prohibited all public service decision-makers from entering into negotiations, even sectoral, with the UGTT, is symptomatic of the climate of the discussions. Noureddine Taboubi may well denounce an attempt by the government to force through it, which would have drawn up a reform program to be submitted to the IMF without consulting the central office, but nothing moves and the tension is mounting. “The strategy of the fait accompli does not pass, it stirs up misunderstandings and prevents trust,” laments an economist close to the trade union world.
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To curb the budget deficit, the executive has no other recourse than to appeal to an increasingly demanding IMF vis-à-vis a Tunisia which, since 2011, has promised numerous reforms without achieving anything, despite the funds disbursed until 2018. “Let’s not forget that we asked the IMF, and not the other way around”, specifies Moez Joudi, president of the Tunisian Association of governance.
All the governments have come up against the same difficulty: in Tunisia, the reforms, for lack of communication, are perceived as sanctions, especially since they are oriented towards a withdrawal of the State. The UGTT is hostile to these reforms and more particularly to their application without transition. She is calling for salary increases, while acknowledging that “Tunisia will have to seek funds from l’international ».