1 April 2014

Morocco: Moroccan Bakeries Stage Bread Strike

Casablanca — The Moroccan Federation of Bakers and Patissiers (FBPM) staged a national strike last week under the slogan "Two Days without Bread".

Most bakeries across the kingdom closed on Wednesday and Thursday (March 26th-27th) in an escalatory step by the union in response to the government's refusal to activate clauses of a contract to increase bread prices.

FBPM chief Lhoucine Zaz said that the decision to increase bread prices was final based on the real cost of production, which ranges between 1.42 and 1.67 dirhams per loaf, as compared to the current government-set price, which doesn't exceed 1.20 dirhams.

However, authorities did not allow the syndicate to boost prices, prompting the strike. Bakers estimate their daily losses at about 3 million dirhams.

"To us in the FBPM, the strike was a success although the government says otherwise," Zaz told Magharebia. "There are areas where the strike was more than 80 per cent successful. The goal of this strike is to remind the government that there are obligations that it must meet."

The union leader said the contract discussions dated back to the time of Prime Minister Driss Jettou, adding that "nothing happened" in the years since.

"Our file didn't move a single step forward; the government is evading and doesn't want to bear responsibility for the implementation of this contract-programme," Zaz said. "It's not reasonable that bread prices remain the same for ten years although the prices of all bread components have gone up."

As to the goal of strike, Zaz said, "Our aim is not to starve citizens. This is a civilised move, and we believe in dialogue; we want ears that can hear us and eyes that can see our suffering."

"We've been suffering in silence for years because of the spread of random bakeries on the streets and lack of a profit margin," bakery owner Abderrehmane Chafiki said. "The strike was like a warning to the government in hopes it will pay attention to our suffering."

For his part, comedian Noureddine Adib, who leads a popular movement called "Don't Touch My Loaf", warned the union against "proceeding to play with fire".

"Citizens have been harshly affected by successive increases and won't accept any increase in the price of their daily bread. There are channels of dialogue that the FBPM can open with the government without threatening strikes and escalation," he said.

Some bakeries, especially in poor neighbourhoods in Casablanca and Rabat, took advantage of the situation to raise their profit margins. Traditional bread distributors were seen on the streets supplying shops with this vital commodity. Home ovens and street-side bread sellers also helped alleviate the strike's impact.

"So far, we haven't noticed the absence of bread," housewife Naima Charaf told Magharebia outside a bread and confectionary store in Casablanca. "Bread is available at the market, as not all bakeries are closed, and there was no change in prices."

In his turn, teacher Aziz Hattab said, "I usually get my bread from the market here at Hay el-Hassani for a dirham per loaf, but I noticed the small number of bread sellers. Some were selling bread for 1.20 dirhams per loaf, which is quite normal as many bakeries in Hay el-Hassani and Alfa are closed because owners are members of the FBPM."

For his part, government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi said that the administration refused "any submission to blackmail and anything affecting citizens' purchasing power".

In a press conference held after a government meeting on Thursday, El Khalfi said the strike didn't succeed, noting that between 14 and 16 per cent of modern bakeries took part in the strike on the first day and about 11 per cent participated on the second day.

"The government understands that social issues should be resolved via dialogue," he added.

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