The Bouden Government – UGTT: agree to disagree!

The relationship between the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the government of Najla Bouden has seen many twists and turns since his appointment on October 11, 2021. Almost a year later, the deal looks increasingly impossible due to the Bouden team’s desire to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to get a loan to stop the gaps that are appearing in the state budget. The UGTT did not hesitate to express its reticence regarding the implementation of the reform program that the government had presented to the IMF. Several leaders of the trade center had assured that they had a program to save the country and not run into even more debt.

The Bouden government, for its part, has excelled in the politics of headlong haste. Over the past ten months, it has surprised the population and the UGTT by publishing Circular No. 20, price limits without consulting the affected structures, by presenting its reform program or even by announcing its urgent economic measures without informing the UGTT. The general secretary of the trade union centre, Noureddine Taboubi, had each time criticized the government’s position, called for dialogue and made a point of reminding the political weight of the UGTT. We even got to the notification of regional strikes and a national strike in public companies.

Subsequently, we had to closely follow the exchanges of opinion and the conversations about Circular No. 20, which forbade high-ranking officials to enter into negotiations with the trade unions. It was like a long Mexican soap opera on a very limited budget! There was no action, no twist, no lines or must-have quotes. The UGTT was obliged to withdraw the text and the government remained true to its silence and its ostrich policy. Both had agreed to oppose this circular.

Subsequently, Noureddine Taboubi and Najla Bouden finally met! Their reunion had taken place within the framework of a working meeting in the presence of the president of UTICA, Samir Majoul. The Presidency will announce that it was a meeting that resulted in the signing of a “social contract”. The UGTT will oppose it immediately and will confirm that nothing has been decided and that it was only a simple agreement in principle: another falsehood announced by the government.

The last episode of this comedy is that of the meeting on September 2, 2022. This one dealt with wage increases. The most surprising fact of this meeting was the attitude of the government: the Bouden team was in favor of the case, contrary to what it had confirmed since the beginning of the year. In fact, the government had expressed countless times its support for freezing wages and payslips. He had even made it one of the foundations of his reform program officially submitted to the IMF. The document, which Business News had obtained a copy of since January, indicates that there will be a pay freeze for five years.

Here we are in September, eight months later, with a government taking a completely different stance. The government delegation had even proposed the UGTT payments scheduled for 2023, 2024 and 2025, contrary to what Bouden had promised the IMF. Is the government trying to fool the IMF? Is he trying to buy time with UGTT by proposing an unacceptable deal? Does the Bouden government think it is smarter than the rest of the world? It is always better to believe that the government is playing smart than to believe that the Bouden team have forgotten their commitments to the IMF or are thinking of finding a solution to this change of attitude!

This one-to-one policy best characterizes the relationship between the UGTT and this government or even those that preceded it. The central union had negotiated several increases and agreements, but which have still not been complied with. Each time we faced the same dilemma. A trade union center crying injustice and respect for the commitments of the executive in disagreement with a government that believes that the previously signed agreements did not in any way imply that and that it should not be held responsible for the matter. The UGTT and the Bouden government, those that preceded it and even those that will be formed in the future will always agree on this approach. This is a sad tradition that has long characterized Tunisian political dynamics. We just have to wait for the early legislative elections in December 2022 to discover the composition of the new government, which will once again disagree with the UGTT.

Sophie Ghoubantini

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