Powerful Tunisian union starts nationwide strike over pay

Tunisians wave flags during a rally marking the eighth anniversary of the 2011 revolution in front of the headquarter of the Tunisian General Labour Union in the capital Tunis on January 14, 2019. (AFP / Fethi Belaid)
Updated 17 January 2019
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Powerful Tunisian union starts nationwide strike over pay

  • The one-day strike will hit airports, ports, schools, hospitals, state media and government offices
  • Tunisia is under pressure from the IMF to freeze public sector wages as part of reforms to help reduce the country’s budget deficit
TUNIS: Tunisia’s biggest union, UGTT, started a nationwide strike on Thursday affecting the country’s airports, schools and state media to protest against the government’s refusal to raise the salaries of 670,000 public servants.
Tunisia is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund to freeze public sector wages as part of reforms to help reduce the country’s budget deficit.
International lenders have threatened to stop financing the economy, which has been in crisis since the toppling of President Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali in 2011.
The one-day strike will hit airports, ports, schools, hospitals, state media and government offices, but Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said the state will provide minimum services in vital sectors including aviation, ports, buses and trains.
Tunisia’s state-owned airline Tunisair expects major disruptions to its flight schedule due to the strike and urged customers to change bookings, it said, adding that at least 16 flights will be postponed.
Chahed said the strike will be very expensive but the government could not raise wages disproportionately to the state’s ability to afford it.
Sami Tahri, Deputy Secretary-General of the UGTT, said the government had come under the dictates of the IMF and had chosen the difficult solution of confrontation with public servants.
Government and union sources told Reuters that the government had proposed spending about $400 million on pay rises whereas the UGTT had asked for about $850 million.
Tunisia struck a deal with the IMF in December 2016 for a loan program worth around $2.8 billion to overhaul its ailing economy with steps to cut chronic deficits and trim bloated public services, but progress has been slow.
Tunisia’s economy has been in crisis since the toppling of autocrat Zine Al-Abidine Ben Ali threw it into turmoil, with unemployment and inflation shooting up.
The government aims to cut the public sector wage bill to 12.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2020 from the current 15.5 percent, one of the world’s highest levels according to the IMF.


US puts up $10m reward for Hezbollah information

Updated 10 min 19 sec ago
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US puts up $10m reward for Hezbollah information

  • The money is for anyone who provides intelligence that allows the US to disrupt Hezbollah in key ways

WASHINGTON: The US on Monday offered a $10 million reward for information that would disrupt the finances of Lebanon’s Shiite militant movement Hezbollah.
The State Department said it would give the money to anyone who provides intelligence that allows the US to disrupt Hezbollah in key ways.
The areas include information on Hezbollah’s donors, on financial institutions that assist its transactions and on businesses controlled by the movement.
President Donald Trump’s administration has put a top priority on reducing the influence of Iran, the primary backer of Hezbollah.
The State Department listed three alleged Hezbollah financiers as examples of activities it was seeking to stop, with one, Ali Youssef Charara, allegedly funding the group by investing millions of dollars from Hezbollah in the telecommunications industry in West Africa.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has pointed to a recent appeal by Hezbollah for donations as a sign of US success in curbing Iran.
On a visit last month to Beirut, Pompeo urged Lebanon to counter the “dark ambitions” of Iran and Hezbollah but was rebuffed by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, who said Hezbollah was not a terrorist group and enjoyed a wide base.
The United States has vowed for decades to fight Shiite militants in Lebanon, with memories still bitter over the 1983 attack on a military barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans.
Hezbollah, however, also functions as a political party, with posts in the current cabinet, and enjoys support among some Lebanese who recall its guerrilla campaign that led Israel to withdraw from the country in 2000.