Tunis/Tunisia — Prime Minister Youssef Chahed regretted the general strike decision maintained by the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) for Thursday, saying that the government has done its best to avoid it.
"It is an unfortunate strike because it will have a high cost, especially in view of the economic situation facing the country, and because of the government's efforts to reach an agreement by presenting new proposals to avoid the strike, improving the purchasing power of citizens and taking into account the state budget and the country's resources," said the Prime Minister in a short speech to the Tunisian people broadcast Wednesday evening during the Watania 1 television news.
Chahed said the proposed increases affect working people and retirees, saying his government "cares that the civil servant has an appropriate income given that he is an important part of the country's economy and we are counting on him for his development".
"We also care that pensioners have respectable pensions after dedicating their lives to serving the nation as well as improving the level of the poor, the unemployed and those with unstable salaries to whom the 2019 Finance Act has reserved a significant part of the measures," added Chahed.
However, the PM noted that "if increases are not accompanied by economic growth they cannot achieve their goals and the government realized that all the increases granted after the revolution in the absence of real growth did not have an impact on citizens but on the contrary led to inflation, over-indebtedness, the deterioration of citizens' purchasing power, not to mention their repercussions on the dinar and the interest rate in the banking sector".
"Everyone is aware of these problems and the government is working to overcome them, but this has not prevented it from accepting increases that are within the national economy's means and without damaging public finances, because wage increases made without taking into account the country's financial situation will lead to more borrowing and debt," he said in this regard.
He added that he rejects "wage increases if they will force us to impose more taxes on the citizen, a choice made by the country after the revolution and which has led to a situation that everyone knows".
"That is why the government has assumed its responsibility by informing the social partner (UGTT) that the government is not in a position to grant increases beyond its means, but we have proposed reasonable increases taking into account the state's means," explained the Prime Minister.
"We could have made the easy choice to sign an agreement on wage increases, regardless of their volume, thinking that future governments will assume the benefits, but this is irresponsible because we do not intend to make decisions that will have negative consequences on the national economy and the future of our children," said Youssef Chahed.
He reaffirmed that the UGTT remains a partner and the government will continue to treat it on this basis, "because we are obliged to continue negotiations to find solutions that will serve the country's interests".
"I am convinced that the differences concern the interests of the country as a whole," he said, stating that the right to strike is a constitutional right guaranteed by the democratic system, a right that it respects and that the government guarantees its exercise in accordance with the law, the security of persons, property and the general order.
Chahed reassured the Tunisians, stating that "despite the suspension of a large part of their services on Thursday due to the general strike, the State will guarantee minimum services for the benefit of citizens".
"The strike is a form of democratic expression and all social issues are resolved through dialogue and we invite our social partner back to dialogue after the general strike to ensure that the national interest prevails," he stressed.
The Prime Minister expressed his conviction that "the national interest will ultimately prevail and that appropriate solutions will be found together to preserve the country".
Public service and public sector employees will observe a strike on Thursday at the call of the Tunisian General Labour Union after a series of failed negotiations between the central union and the government on wage increases.
The strike will begin Wednesday at midnight and continue until Thursday, January 17, 2019 at midnight.