The Mateur-based plant of Leoni, a German cable-and optical fiber-manufacturing company, was shut down on Friday, February 10th, after approval from the company’s Nuremberg based leadership. This abrupt decision thrusts the already beleaguered industrial town in the northern Bizerte Governate into further economic stress.
Leoni employs around 14,000 workers throughout Tunisia in three sites: Sousse, Ben Arous, and Mateur. Around 2,700 workers from the Mateur plant stand to lose their jobs if the decision holds.
Mohammed Arbi Rouissi, the General Director of Leoni’s Tunisian branch, declared in a press release, obtained by the Tunisian Press Agency, that “this decision has been taken due to the impossibility of ensuring a normal continuation of operations, in the section of Mateur North, despite efforts to reach a consensus and establish a dialogue with the union.” The closure of the cable factory comes in the wake of “anarchic sit-ins and strike threats which have caused supply delays,” according to Mohammed Hedi Bougra, a spokesperson for Leoni. The hope that a labor resolution is still possible seems unlikely with Bougra’s unequivocal depiction of the decision as “definitive.”
In spite of a seemingly insurmountable impasse in the dialogue between Leoni and one of Tunisia’s major unions, the Tunisian Workers’ Union (UTT), Mohammed Lamine Chakhari, Minister of Industry and Commerce, made a swift trip to Mateur late last night to salve the wounds between the two parties. “The government is working in concert with German authorities and Leoni in order to restart dialogue among concerned parties and arrive at some solutions that take into account the future of the company and the wiring sector,” stated Chakhari after initial negotiations.
As negotiations were ongoing today, the town of Mateur, whose economy depends greatly upon the Leoni plant, was calm and no
demonstrations were taking place. Hassan Kanzari, Assistant to the General-Secretary of the UTT, insisted over the phone that the UTT had not undertaken sit-ins or production stoppages, which were illegitimate or anarchic. “We [the UTT] say ‘no’ to sit-ins because they damage the nation’s economy. We need to get workers employed and keep employed workers from losing their jobs. About 3,000 now are threatened by job-loss without any reason,” said Kanzari.
Kanzari went beyond his criticism for the recent decision and cited longstanding grievances of UTT members in the Mateur plant
against Leoni. “Workers who have left other trade unions and joined the UTT have been followed and sanctioned by the company,” stated Kanzari.
The evident friction between trade unions and foreign companies is not new in Tunisia. Last December, Yazaki, a Japanese cabling firm, closed of one of its Gafsa plants in a series of ratched tensions with workers. The interim government has been pressed to play a mediating role between foreign companies and the workforce they hire. 2011, in general, peppered Tunisia with discouraging economic indicators. Of them, a 30% decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) is cause for great concern, given that economic growth is significantly dependent on FDI in Tunisia.