The state-owned Phosphate Company of Gafsa (CPG) is facing trouble keeping its production uninterrupted. A general strike, organized today by various local syndicates, has effectively shut down activities in all commercial and industrial sectors of the Mdhilla region in the phosphate-rich governorate of Gafsa.
There are two open-pit mines belonging to CPG in Mdhilla, and none of them were operational today, confirmed an employee of CPG, who asked to remain anonymous.
The strike comes only a week after the National Guard intervened, concluding month-long sit-ins that paralyzed much of CPG’s operations across the governorate and disrupted the rail transport of phosphate between the company’s largest plant in Metlaoui and the regional capital Gafsa.
The repeated stoppage of production leads to “a loss of clients in Europeans markets since they won’t perceive us [CPG] as being competent,” lamented the same source from CPG.
According to an official statement by regional syndicates, the demands behind today’s strike are manifold – more regional employment and training, an end to industrial destruction of the environment, regulated work for subcontractors, and improved access to water.
CPG finds itself at the heart of the regional syndicates’ grievances in Mdhilla. Locals blame phosphate extraction for environmental degradation and hazards.
Protesters today made their way peacefully from the local government’s headquarters to a chemical processing complex that plays an integral role in CPG’s extraction of phosphate, stated the same source from CPG.
The regional syndicates additionally demand that CPG, which is one of the largest single employers in the Gafsa region, hire more of the local workforce.
In particular, the Tunisian Company of Mining-Materials Transport, whose mother company is CPG, comes under fire for its unfair hiring practices, according to the syndicates’ official statement. The transport company is critical to CPG’s daily operations as it moves loads of phosphate and its derivatives from the mines in Mdhilla to other cities, such as Sfax and Gabes, for refinement.
Until the revolution, Tunisia was the fifth largest exporter of phosphate, yet persistent social unrest in the governorate has hurt the company’s levels of output. In 2010, CPG produced 8 million tons of phosphate. It was expected that CPG would churn out 3 million tons in 2012, but the state-owned company only produced 2.5 tons at the turn of this month, said Hedi Radhaoui from Radio Kalima’s bureau in Gafsa.
Amira Masrour contributed to reporting