Tunisia’s government and labour unions seek path to reforms in talks

Powerful union disagrees with government on reforms needed to secure IMF rescue package

The parliament building in Tunis, Tunisia, where negotiations between the government and a powerful labour union continue. EPA
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The Tunisian government and the powerful General Labour Union, which represents more than a million workers, have concluded a third round of talks on the socio-economic situation of public sector workers and Tunisians as a whole.

The UGTT, as the union is known, said the proposals made by the government so far have not lived up to their expectations.

But in what could be a breakthrough in the negotiations, which began last month, the government accepted for the first time a potential increase in public sector salaries, the UGTT said.

"I can't entirely affirm that this is a positive step until we see actual hints that these promises are going to be happening on the ground,” UGTT spokesperson Sami Tahri told The National. He said there was still a huge gap between the sides.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Najla Bouden held talks with Noureddine Tabboubi, UGTT secretary general. A statement was released on Ms Bouden's official Facebook page claiming that the negotiations were progressing well and Mr Tabboubi had presented a report on the economic reforms programme.

But the UGTT said he "did not present a report but rather an alternative project to the government's reform plan".

Negotiators are still wrestling over how to obtain the $4 billion Tunisia is seeking from the IMF as the country faces its worst economic crisis in a decade.

The government talks with the IMF ground to a halt in July. The IMF wants the UGTT to formally agree to government reforms.

The UGTT staunchly opposes economic reforms proposed by the government, chiefly subsidy cuts and a public sector wage freeze. It has championed a series of paralysing protests and strikes against the proposals.

It said the government officials are being secretive about the talks with the IMF.

"These negotiations remain secret,” Mr Tahri said. “We haven’t been made aware of what's going on behind the scenes.”

The efforts to reach a halfway house come against a backdrop of political turmoil since President Kais Saied seized most executive powers a year ago.

In July, he pushed through a new constitution formalising many of the expanded powers he has assumed in a referendum.

The president repeatedly said the extraordinary measures were crucial to save the country from years of political instability and to end corruption.

Updated: June 14, 2023, 7:36 AM