Lynch met with UGTT General Secretary Noureddine Taboubi on Friday prior to taking part in a Saturday rally organized by UGTT in eight cities to protest the stifling “of basic rights, including union rights.” In her speech, Lynch called for the release of Anis Kaabi, general secretary of Tunisia’s highway workers union, who was arrested for organizing a strike of toll booth workers.
Following the protest, authorities posted an article accusing Lynch of breaking the law by threatening the country’s security. Authorities confronted Lynch, giving her 24 hours to leave the country and ordering her to inform them of her activities and anyone she spoke to during that period.
After arriving safely in Brussels, Lynch drew a parallel between her expulsion and the harassment of trade unionists in Tunisia.
“The decision to expel me for taking part in a peaceful protest is typical of the harassment and intimidation faced by trade unionists in Tunisia every day,” she said. “In the past few months, members of the UGTT have been arrested, sacked and spied on simply for carrying out entirely legal trade union work.”
The European Trade Union Confederation issued a statement that decried “the campaign of intimidation and harassment being waged against trade unions,” including arrests, firings, malicious lawsuits, the monitoring and restricting of trade union activity by law enforcement, and the promotion of yellow trade unions. The International Trade Union Confederation noted the “enormous damage to Tunisia’s economy, society and the daily life of working people” resulting from the president’s policies.
Lynch’s expulsion is the latest in a series of anti-union and anti-democratic actions including the arrest of Anis Kaabi and the weaponization of the country’s courts against union members for exercising their rights, such as the freedom to strike.
Global labor unions and the international human rights community are denouncing the arrest in Tunisia of a top leader in the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT).
Anis Kaabi, general secretary of the highway workers’ union, was arrested January 31 after leading a strike by toll booth workers. A coalition of 66 human rights groups and Tunisian political parties denounced the action, calling it a “desperate attempt to criminalize union work.”
Kaabi was charged with causing financial loss to a state-owned company because of the strike. A court hearing is set for February 23.
Toll booth workers walked out to urge the government to renegotiate the contract for the biggest highway link in the North African country, which is mired in economic crisis.
For months, the Tunisian government has been negotiating a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to shore up the country’s rapidly deteriorating economy, but the IMF often conditions such support by demanding curbs on state spending and austerity measures like cutting subsidies for the country’s poorest.
Union members who legally exercise their rights in Tunisia, such as the freedom to strike, have been increasingly targeted, according to data from the UGTT, which found that the percentage of cases filed against union members rose in 2022, with a quarter of them directed against women.
Already this year, the government has filed more than 60 cases against union members for exercising their internationally recognized labor rights, according to UGTT, which says the numbers indicate a stepped-up effort to diminish the union’s power and turn public opinion against it.
Workers are taking part in a series of marches across the country through March 11, after the UGTT approved the actions to protest Kaabi’s arrest and in light of the government’s increased aggression against the union and its members.
In January, UGTT, the Tunisian Human Rights League and two other organizations launched a National Salvation Initiative to offer a “rescue initiative” to the president to find solutions to the economic and political crisis in Tunisia, including the growing consolidation of the presidency and the closing space for civil society.
Following Kaabi’s arrest, UGTT Secretary General Noureddine Taboubi said President Kaid Saied is “trying to divert attention” from the election result and “the utter failure of his economic and social decisions.”
Tunisian workers at the call center giant Teleperformance Foundation won big pay and benefit gains in a new contract negotiated by the Informational Technology and Services union. The union is part of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), which took part in negotiations.
Effective in March, the agreement includes wage increases between 9.5 percent and 13 percent, depending on seniority, and a 250 Tunisian dinar ($83) May Day bonus, a first in Tunisia’s private sector.
The contract also includes such key benefits as the creation of a retirement bonus equivalent to three salaries, food subsidies during the month of Ramadan and a back-to-school loan program.
“This agreement comes as one of the successes that the sector and the Teleperformance Company have reaped, and is a positive message to our counterparts among call center workers that we invite them to organize more,” says Ali Ourak, general secretary of the Informational Technology and Services union.
Last year, workers at Teleperformance won a 13.8 percent wage increase after planning a strike to improve working conditions. Teleperformance, which employs more than 400,000 workers worldwide, made a 2021 net profit of nearly $560 million, the most the firm recorded in a single financial year and an increase of approximately $230 million from 2020.
The company also committed to work with the UGTT toward creation of a broad agreement that would cover all call centers in Tunisia.
Some 12,000 call center workers are union members in Tunisia, as unions step up outreach efforts, boosting union membership by 5,000 in the past two years.
Public employees across Tunisia won a 5 percent wage increase over three years plus financial benefits through revisions of the tax code, following a general strike and weeks of difficult negotiations, according to the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT). The agreement also increases the guaranteed minimum wage by 7 percent.
“Our objective through this agreement is to establish social peace and to ease the tense social climate, in view of the very difficult social situation and the deterioration of purchasing power,” UGTT General Secretary Noureddine Taboubi told Agence France Press.
The agreement restores key union rights by guaranteeing the right to free collective bargaining negotiations. UGTT had called on the government to adhere to a December 2021 agreement in which it will negotiate with unions on policies affecting workers.
Workers protested deteriorating economic conditions and government efforts to freeze public employee wages, part of the government’s attempts to secure financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF recently indicated the loan is expected to be between $2 billion and $4 billion over three years.
Solidarity Center works closely with the UGTT which, with its nearly 1 million members, continues to fight for their democratic freedoms in difficult conditions as workers join together and negotiate collectively over their pay, working conditions and workplace decisions.
Hundreds of thousands of public employees across Tunisia waged a one-day strike today after talks with the government failed to address the rising cost of living and sinking wages, even as it increases taxes and cuts social programs.
“The strike on June 16, 2022, is an opportunity for workers to affirm their unity, hold on to their rights, and defy the usurpation and threats, including unconstitutional and illegal burdens,” the Tunisia General Labor Union (UGTT) says in a statement.
At least 96 percent of public employees from 159 state institutions and public companies took part in the strike, according to the UGTT, which says the strike enabled workers “to express their anger at the deterioration of their working and economic conditions, the low wages and the threat to their livelihoods.” The UGTT, which represents nearly 1 million workers, says the government is “undermining the principle of negotiation and backtracking on previously agreed deals.”
Flights were cancelled as members of the Transport General union observed the strike. In Tunis, the capital, striking workers rallied at the UGTT building where they staged a sit-down strike, waving signs, “Do not neglect public institutions!” and “I love the country!” Members of organizations such as the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Democratic Women, and the Economic Forum turned out to support striking workers.
Government Bailout at Workers’ Expense
Tunisian workers rallied at the UGTT building during the one-day general strike. Credit: Montasar Akremi / UGTT
The government is seeking a $4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for cuts in food and energy subsidies, wage freezes and privatization of state-owned enterprises.
The UGTT has rejected proposed spending cuts and, with year-over-year inflation at 7.8 percent in May, is seeking wage increases for public-sector workers. UGTT also is demanding that state-owned companies, including electricity and fuel, not be privatized and wants the government to adhere to a December 2021 agreement in which it will negotiate with unions on policies affecting workers. UGTT also is calling for the immediate, case-by-case review and reform of public institutions.
“The current government is determined to make [workers] bear the consequences of its choices,” UGTT says, citing the current and previous governments’ failure to address its financial crisis.
Global union organizations are backing the UGTT in its efforts to end the impasse with the government, with the AFL-CIO, the European Trade Union Confederation, IndustriALL and others sending letters of support.
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