Tunisian bakers strike again over unpaid subsidies
The national bakery owners' union said more than 3,100 bakeries, representing 90 percent of the North African country's state-subsidised bread-makers, have joined the open-ended strike.
"We will continue our strike since we have not received any positive response from the government", union head Mohamed Bouanane told AFP after a meeting with officials at the commerce ministry.
The bakery owners are demanding payment of 14 months of overdue subsidies, which the union estimates at 260 million dinars ($80 million).
Subsidies on basic goods are a highly sensitive political issue in Tunisia, where a public finance crisis has caused repeated shortages of subsidised flour, sugar and other basic goods.
Bouanane said the government, which had promised but failed to cover four months of the unpaid subsidies, has indicated it would only being gradual payment of the overdue compensation in January.
A government press service contacted by AFP did not respond to a request for comment.
One striking baker said he was struggling to maintain his business.
"We can no longer continue to work, we are unable to pay our workers and all our costs," he told AFP by telephone.
"The government must pay us."
As Tunisia slips further into crisis, normality is hard to come by— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) November 13, 2022
✍ Khelil Bouarrouj https://t.co/UeQFqzVGTl
A strike in October was suspended the day it began following state promises to pay bakers around $24 million, which Bouanane said had not happened.
Nearly 1,200 bakeries unaffected by the compensation system continued to operate normally on Wednesday.
Tunisia is in the grip of a grinding economic downturn exacerbated by inflation that hit 9.8 percent year-on-year in December, according to official figures.
A $1.9-billion loan deal with the International Monetary Fund agreed in principle in mid-October stipulates that the cash-strapped country gradually scrap its subsidy programme.
The North African country, due to hold legislative elections on December 17, has also been mired in a political crisis since July 2021, when President Kais Saied seized full executive powers.