Thousands of trade unionists in the North African country of Tunisia have held protests across the country over worsening economic woes and the subsequent arrest of a top union official. Presently, the country is in drawn-out talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to secure a bailout loan, which according to the powerful UGTT labor union workers’ federation could entail painful austerity measures.
In this regard, the UGTT labor union had stated that they had no deal with the government on matters of reforming subsidies and publicly owned companies and will head street protests over any such changes. Therefore, potentially complicating the foreign bailout talks.
The Kais Saied government is currently in dialogue with the IMF in order to secure a rescue package that could unlock further bilateral aid for Tunisia in order to help it steer away from a looming public financial crisis.
Demonstrators in the city of Sfax conducted the largest protest that took place on Saturday. They chanted slogans that stated that Tunisia was not for sale. Some raised loaves of bread that symbolized the soaring living costs, a site memorable for the public protest in Sri Lanka during the economic failure.
The escalation of the union’s confrontation with the Tunisian President was marked by protests in eight cities. This was followed by their criticism of the government regarding the recent arrests of several anti-government figures which included politicians, a journalist, two judges, and a senior UGTT official.
Fears of a larger crackdown have been heightened by such coordinated arrests. Further, this has prompted the UN Human Rights Office to call for the immediate release of the detainees.
Alongside the UNHRC, the protesters too demanded the release of Anis Kaabi, a senior UGTT official who was arrested on January 31, 2023, and currently faces trial on charges of appropriating his position in order to harm public authorities. This incident was followed by a strike by the toll barrier workers.
Moreover, according to a statement by the presidency, the Tunisian authorities, under the directory of President Saied, had ordered the departure of Esther Lynch who headed the European Trade Union Confederation.
The statement further stated that Lynch had taken part in a demonstration organized that was organized the UGTT trade union federation and had made comments that were considered to have constituted glaring interference in Tunisia’s internal affairs. Additionally, following the statement, she had 24 hours to leave the country.
Lynch, earlier in the day, had given a speech to the demonstration organized by the UGTT in the Tunisian city of Sfax.
A protracted economic crisis has gripped Tunisia, a country heavily indebted and import-dependent, that has worsened since Russia invaded Ukraine.