Tunisia: Difficult negotiations with IMF, labour union rejects

Tunisia’s most powerful labor union rejects reported reforms proposed by the government as part of efforts to secure foreign financing, one of its most senior officials told our reporters on Wednesday.

A government delegation is in Washington for talks with the International Monetary Fund on a possible $4 billion loan and reforms to eliminate subsidies and reduce the massive public sector wage bill.

While the government has not yet formally commented on the details, union acceptance of any reforms is seen as important to its chances of securing the money it says it needs to finance both its debt repayments and this year’s fiscal deficit.

On Tuesday, Reuters reported a government document laying out proposals such as encouraging voluntary redundancy on 25 percent pay, early retirement packages and offering staff part time work at 50 percent of full pay.

The UGTT has more than a million members and has proven able to mobilize significant opposition to previous governments through strikes, sit ins and pressure on political parties.

“These are unilateral measures that we did not discuss with the government and we were surprised when we read about the details,” UGTT deputy secretary general Sami Tahri said.

Tahri said the government should focus on raising more revenue by targeting tax evasion rather than measures that he said would target state employees and renewed a UGTT demand to start negotiations on another public sector pay rise.

Last month, the government and UGTT said they had struck a deal on economic reforms that would allow Tunisia to start negotiations with the IMF for a loan program, but they did not reveal its contents and said details remained to be agreed.

He said early retirement and other schemes to reduce the size of the state workforce would cause a decline in civil service performance and lead to an exodus of experienced staff, “exhausting the administration.”

Arab Observer

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