Some 1.5 million workers across Tunisia’s private sector will not lose their jobs and will be paid during COVID-19-related closures, following a landmark agreement between the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) and the government. Under the agreement, reached April 14, the government will contribute $70 per worker, with the remaining salary paid by employers. The pact covers workers in agricultural and maritime fishing; construction; metal, garment and shoe manufacturing; transportation; hotels and more.
UGTT Secretary-General Noureddine El-Taboubi commended UTICA, an employer organization, on its commitment to pay their full salaries to private-sector workers after the government’s one-time payment toward each worker’s salary. The agreement, backed by a government decree, results: For instance, 550 workers at the Kaschke Components Tunisie manufacturing firm were returned to the payroll.
“Solidarity must be demonstrated during times of genuine crisis like the current crisis facing Tunisia,” Taboubi says, noting that private-sector workers do not have have access to extensive social protection.
Union Members Across Tunisia Reach Out to Hard Hit Workers
The (UGTT), which represents 1 million members across the country, took action early on in the novel coronavirus crisis to assist workers. The confederation pledged to donate $35,000 to a special fund to combat the virus and called on workers to donate a day’s pay. It also joined with the Housing Bank and Ministry of Health to retrofit a social housing building into quarantine facilities for healthcare workers who test positive for COVID-19 to ensure that they receive proper medical care.
Across Tunisia, union members have collected in-kind donations and held fundraisers to help equip hospitals with essential protective gear and medical equipment, and with their unions and the UGTT, donated tens of thousands of dollars to local hospitals, especially to those in regions with few resources such as Jandouba regional hospitals and Sidi Bouzid regional hospital.
UGTT and its unions also are working to ensure workers know their rights during the crisis and are demanding safe and healthy working conditions for those who must remain on the job, pushing for employers to provide masks, gloves and other protective gear.
Nearly 700,000 public employees in Tunisia won a salary increase after waging mass actions for months, including a one-day general strike, in which they protested the erosion of their ability to support their families as their salaries failed to keep up with rising costs.
The agreement, announced today between the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the government, will ensure workers directly employed by the government will get nearly the same wage increase in 2018 and 2019 as those employed in public-private enterprises. Further details have not been announced. The agreement comes less than two weeks before UGTT was to launch its second two-day general strike on February 20–21.
High school teachers, who for nearly two months have boycotted exams to protest their poor wages and who yesterday waged a mass action at the prime minister’s office, will be covered under a separate agreement. The union’s Administrative Committee for Education will review the draft agreement tomorrow.
Even as public-sector workers struggle in Tunisia’s difficult economy, they also have been the target of wage freezes mandated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has demanded the government cut spending and balance the budget. The IMF and the government in 2016 entered into a loan program worth around $2.8 billion to address the country’s economic crisis.
Some 670,000 workers in Tunisia waged a nationwide one-day strike today to protest the government’s refusal to increase wages for civil servant workers. The strike follows months of intense negotiations between the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the government, which refused to increase wages in 2019 because of its commitment to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to freeze public-sector wages and spending and balance the budget.
Hundreds of thousands of Tunisian workers pack the streets of Tunis for a one-day strike. Credit: UGTT
Workers began the strike at midnight. By morning, hundreds of thousands gathered at the UGTT headquarters in the capital, Tunis, and at regional offices across the country, rallying to cries of “We want employment, freedom, national dignity.” The UGTT says all public service workers took part in the strike, including workers from state-owned enterprises.
Public-sector wages have failed to keep up with rising prices, leading to a decline in purchasing power. The UGTT says the monthly minimum wage of about $128 is one of the lowest in the world, while Tunisia’s Institute of Strategic Studies says real purchasing power has fallen by 40 percent since 2014. The UGTT points out that private-sector workers have seen a 6 percent pay increase for 2019.
In addition, the government’s proposed $60 tax increase would severely impact workers’ wages, social security and the prices of consumer goods, UGTT Deputy General Sami Tahri said at a press conference yesterday.
Only one flight left the airport, and the strike affected ports, public transportation and central, regional and local administrations. Vital care at hospitals continued.
“Now more than ever we see the need to organize across borders to tackle corporate global supply chains” that keep workers from retail and farms in low wages,” says Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer and chief officer of the California Labor Federation.
“We need to learn from each other to learn to organize more.”
Pulaski helped open a day-long conference, “Realizing a More Fair Global Food Supply Chain,” which gathered farm worker activists and food justice advocates to explore farmworker organizing strategies, alliances to support worker rights across the food chain, legal initiatives to ensure decent work and the importance of workers in the advancement of sustainability and justice as our food moves from farm to table.
“We are talking about a whole distribution system that is based on low-wage work, an economic model that relies on low wages in restaurants, retail, farms,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “Today is about changing that.”
One way to improve worker rights in global supply chains involves workers coming together to demand their rights, and union activists from Mexico, Morocco and Washington state shared their successful strategies organizing farmworkers.
Speaking on the first panel, “Build Real Voice and Real Work for Workers,” Ramon Torres, president of Familias Unidas por la Justicia in Washington state, described how he joined with co-workers on farms in Washington state for a two-cent an hour raise in 2013. They went on to champion laws that ensured farmworkers would receive their wages from employers who he estimates engaged in wage theft totaling $850,000.
“One thing I want to emphasize is how important it is for us to organize,” says Torres, speaking through a translator. “I am proud to represent workers.”
In Morocco, where the Democratic Labor Federation (CDT) organized more than 1,000 farmworkers on a large agro-industrial complex, the union focused on empowering women throughout the process, says Saida Bentahar, a member of the CDT executive committee.
“For women working in the agricultural fields, women started to learn about their rights and how to discuss and negotiate,” says Bentahar. “Women also managed to have their voices heard during negotiations” and as a result, they won first-ever health care and education opportunities for their children and can work in higher-skilled, higher-paid jobs previously open only to men.
“Now women benefit from many advantages they would not have had without the collective bargaining agreement,” she says.
Food justice advocates shared how they incorporate the rights of workers along the global agricultural supply chain during the second morning panel, a strategy session on models of cooperation.
“When we say agricultural food chain workers, we mean farm workers, fish workers, meat processing and poultry processing workers, those who truck the food and workers in grocery stores, retail chains, restaurants, and street vendors,” says Joann Lo, co-director of the Food Chain Workers Alliance in Los Angeles.
Lo says her organization forrmed as the sustainable food movement took off and consumers began asking how far their food traveled and was it fresh and sustainable—but left workers out of the conversation. “We need to ask: Are the jobs sustainable for workers in the global supply chain?” she says.
“The power of procurement most powerful tool we have,” says Clare Fox, executive director at the Los Angeles Food Policy Council. Fox described how her organization successfully moved the LA Unfired School District—which spends $150 million a year on food—to commit to ensuring 15 percent of the food it sources meets a baseline of fair labor, animal welfare and nutrition.
The panel also included moderator Robert Eggers, president of the LA Kitchen and Ryan Zinn, regenerative projects manager at the family-owned organic, fair trade company, Dr. Bronner’s.
Stop back for more coverage of the afternoon sessions!
In Tunisia’s southern Gafsa region, Naziha Kdimi, a higher education teacher, struggled for years to gain acceptance among her male union peers.
This year, Kdimi was elected assistant general secretary for a regional union body covering the area for the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT)—the first woman to hold an executive position in the region.
Her advice to women seeking to change male-dominated cultures that have long inhibited women from exerting leadership: Keep showing up every day. Eventually, the men will accept you. Don’t go away, because then they will have won.
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.