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Public workers strike in Tunisia, signalling national crisis

TUNIS, TUNISIA (AP) – A nationwide public sector strike in Tunisia is poised to paralyse land and air transportation and other vital activities yesterday with the North African nation already in the midst of a deteriorating economic crisis.

Tunisia’s powerful General Labour Union (UGTT) announced the walkout, which was expected to include 159 state enterprises, on the basis of pressing social and economic demands.

The union is demanding wage increases and protesting the government’s planned economic reforms. The purchasing power of Tunisian citizens has eroded since the beginning of the year amid rising prices, high unemployment and widespread poverty. The war in Ukraine has exacerbated the financial squeeze.

Tunisian President Kais Saied’s government unveiled plans last week to cut its massive public wage bill and said it would progressively reduce energy and food subsidies starting next year.

The government said it would replace subsidies with cash handouts for low-income families.

In July 2021, Saied abruptly dismissed the government and took on sweeping powers.

While his critics accuse him of staging a coup, Saied said he had acted in response to widespread economic and social discontent.

Many are concerned yesterday’s strike could seriously impact an already fragile economy and fuel an already tense political situation. An increasingly isolated Saied has run the country alone for 10 months, ruling by decree, while key Western allies have raised concerns of democratic backsliding.

A meeting between the government and the UGTT was held on Tuesday but failed to yield an agreement. At a weekend UGTT meeting ahead of yesterday’s strike, hundreds of union members filled the Palace of Congress in Tunis , waving national flags and singing popular songs.

Supporters of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT). PHOTO: AP