Tunisia’s powerful labour union, Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT), called another national strike for January to press its demand for higher wages after government said on Saturday it would seek a realistic pay deal.
About 650,000 public sector workers went on strike and thousands joined protests across Tunisia on Thursday over the government’s refusal to raise wages amid threats from international lenders to stop financing Tunisia’s tattered economy.
Raising the pressure on the government, the UGTT approved plans for a nationwide strike that includes public employees and state companies on 17 January 2018.
Prime Minister Youssef Chahed conceded that pay was an issue, but added that any agreement must take into account the public finances.
Chahed told parliament that the country faced a problem of a decline in power purchasing and high inflation.
“There is a real problem in the decline in purchasing power and high inflation and the decline of public services. These will be our priorities in the next period.”
Government had said it does not have the money to pay for the increases strikers want, worth about DT2 billion ($690 million) in total.
Under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a deepening political crisis, Chahed is battling to cut the budget deficit to about 4.9% of GDP this year and 3.9% in 2019 from 6.2% last year.
His unpopular reforms include cuts to the public sector, state companies and fuel subsidies.
Tunisia’s economy has been in turmoil since autocrat Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was toppled in a 2011 uprising sparked by anger at unemployment and poverty and record levels of inflation.
The State Institute of Strategic Studies says real purchasing power has fallen by 40% since 2014.