Public transport strike leaves Tunisians with long commute

Thousands of Tunisians caught off guard as strike was announced late on Sunday evening

A quiet tram station in the Tunisian capital on Monday. AFP
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Hundreds of workers with the Tunisian National Transport Company, which operates buses and tram lines, halted work on Monday in a strike over delays in wages and end-of-year bonuses.

Tunisia is in a tough economic situation, with an inflation rate that is expected to reach 10.5 per cent in 2023.

Workers at the transport company rallied in Kasbah Square, near the Prime Minister’s office, expressing their anger and demanding their compensation.

“Until now, there is no indication of a solution for the crisis,” Naji Hamdi, assistant secretary general of the Transport Union, which is affiliated to the powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), told radio Mosaique.

"What is happening is an insult and a disgusting scene that we do not want to see."

Cleaner Latifa Khadhraoui, 55, told The National that it took her three hours to get to work.

Ms Khadhraoui said she took three shared taxis and walked to reach her workplace in the northern Tunis suburb of Gammart from her home in Hay Intileka, on the opposite side of the city.

Tunisia is in the grip of a grinding economic downturn exacerbated by inflation that hit 9. 8 per cent year-on-year in December, according to official figures. AFP

“I went through hell today," she said. "I got out at 5am from my house and I only made it to work by 9am.

"It seems that I’ll have to endure this hell until the issue is resolved. There is no other alternative.”

People said they would have to pay more for public transport as a result of Monday’s strike.

“I’ll have to spend all the money I make in one working day on my transportation fees now,” said cleaner Latifa Mekni, 59, who works for a private company.

Ms Mekni was waiting for a family friend to pick her up after work on Monday afternoon to avoid the trouble she had to endure in the morning.

The Tunisian government has hinted that it will be cutting public spending and might need to give up on some of the publicly owned companies that are struggling with debt and on the verge of bankruptcy.

The move is part of efforts to fulfil the conditions necessary to acquire a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund.

The public transport company operates a fleet of more than 250 bus and 15 tram lines in a city of more than three million people.

Some universities announced that they will be postponing exams because of the strike.

UGTT has warned the government of strikes in different sectors if it continues to refuse to review its 2023 finance law, which the union has condemned as “a strike to citizens’ purchasing power”.

Tunisia’s new 2023 finance law, issued in late December, has been widely criticised because of increasing taxes and austerity measures.

Monday’s strike is open-ended, as workers continue to seek a chance for negotiations with the government.

Updated: January 03, 2023, 6:51 AM