‘Union will not remain silent’: Tunisia’s UGTT demands dialogue

The country’s powerful labour union says it must be included in talks over political and economic reforms called for by the IMF.

Tunisia’s powerful UGTT labour union says it will not remain silent if authorities do not include it in negotiations over the country’s political and economic future, rejecting proposed reforms.

“The country needs political stability for the return of international donors,” its deputy head Salah Eddine Salmi warned on Thursday.

“If there is no economic and political dialogue to save the country, the union will move and will not remain silent,” he said.

Tunisia faces a tangled political and economic crisis as President Kais Saied focuses on rewriting the constitution after instituting one-man rule despite warnings of an imminent collapse in public finances that threatens national bankruptcy.

Saied’s government has started talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a rescue package, but Salmi said the union could not accept economic reforms Tunisia had proposed as part of a deal.

The reforms include halting hiring and a five-year wage freeze in the public sector, selling some state companies, and lifting all subsidies within four years, Salmi said.

“It is impossible for the UGTT union to agree to this very bad package,” he said.

Finance ministry officials declined to comment on the contents of the reform plan proposed to the fund.

‘Will not be silent’

UGTT, along with Tunisian political parties and foreign donors, has for months demanded that Saied adopt a more inclusive approach after he brushed aside the democratic constitution to say he would rule by decree.

The union says it has more than one million members and is seen as Tunisia’s most powerful political organisation, capable of shutting down the economy with strikes.

However, Saied has held only one meeting with UGTT Secretary-General Mohamed Taboubi, who was re-elected to his position this month, since the week he dismissed parliament and assumed executive power last year.

UGTT’s opposition to reforms could obstruct any effort to strike a deal with the IMF. The fund and major foreign donors have said reforms offered by Tunisia to secure a deal would only be credible if they had broad support.

The union will hold a rare high-level meeting at the end of March to respond to the political and economic situation “and will not be silent”, Salmi said.

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