Tunisia, union reach deal after months-long tensions

COMPILED FROM WIRE SERVICES
ISTANBUL
Published 08.02.2019 00:03

Tunisia's government reached a deal with the powerful UGTT union to raise the wages of 670,000 public employees, three sources close to negotiations told Reuters yesterday, ending months of tension in the North Africa country.

Tunisia is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to freeze public-sector wages, the bill for which doubled to about 16 billion dinars in 2018 from 7.6 billion in 2010, to help reduce its budget deficit.

The North African country's economy has been in crisis since the regime of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali toppled in 2011, with unemployment and inflation shooting up. Since Tunisia's popular uprising in 2011, the country has weathered at least three major labor strikes to protest deteriorating economic conditions. Tunisia was the birthplace of the "Arab Spring" uprisings that swept the Middle East and North Africa in early 2011.

On Wednesday, thousands of Tunisian teachers rallied near the prime minister's office to demand better work conditions and higher wages. Last month, rail, bus and air traffic was halted and street protests drew thousands as UGTT staged a one-day nationwide strike.

The union threatened a new nationwide strike this month if the government did not agree to raise wages. It is likely to cancel the strike now that an agreement has been reached. Tunisia aims to cut public-sector wages to 12.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2020 from about 15.5 percent now, one of the world's highest levels, according to the IMF, which struck a $2.8 billion loan agreement with Tunisia in December 2016.

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