Strike over pay paralyses transport in Tunisian capital

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The strike in Tunis highlights the financial problems faced by public companies on the brink of bankruptcy as the government of President Kais Saied faces its worst financial crisis.

“The financial situation in the company is really difficult,” said Transtu spokesman Hayat Chamtouri.

The industrial action is a show of strength for the powerful union UGTT, which has promised to organize a series of protests.

The union, with one million members, approved a two-day strike by air, land and sea transport workers on January 25 and 26 to protest against what it called “marginalization of the government of public companies”.

Hundreds of Transtu workers staged a protest in Kasbah Square, near the Prime Minister’s office, where they demanded payment of money owed by the company.

They raised slogans like “we want our rights… we don’t ask for an advantage”.

Monday’s strike is open and will continue until the workers’ demands are met, said UGTT official Wajih Zidi, while adding that some employees were left unable to pay their debts.

The travel chaos has provoked an angry reaction from some among the thousands of people struggling to get around the capital.

“Today we don’t find milk, oil, sugar or coffee. Moreover now we don’t find buses to take us to work. Tunisia has become an unbearable hell,” said Nejia, a woman waiting at a bus station.

In the poor neighborhood of Intilaka, people blocked the streets to protest the strike.

Tunisia is seeking a $1.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund in exchange for unpopular reforms including spending cuts, restructuring public companies and cutting energy and food subsidies.

Economy Minister Samir Saeed said last month that Tunisia will face a difficult year, with inflation rising above 10%.

The strike will increase pressure on President Saied’s government, which faces growing opposition 17 months after seizing executive powers in a move his opponents described as a coup.

($1 = 3.1136 Tunisian dinars)

(Reporting by Tarek Amara Editing by David Evans and David Goodman)

By Tarek Amara

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