The General Strike proposed for today over the “scourge” of Tunis’ illegal street vendors was only called off at the 11th hour Unions have said.
The Tunisian Union of Industry, Commerce, and Handicrafts (UTICA) have said that the general strike, originally planned throughout the Tunis Governorate for today was suspended after assurances were given that government action would be taken over the chaotic nature of commerce within the capital.
Further to interruptions to trade arising from security operations, has been the growth in makeshift stands selling everything from watches to jewellery that have become commonplace throughout the capital.
Scattered throughout Tunis and major towns, but concentrated within the city center, black market vendors trade whatever they can either in place of any other employment, or to supplement existing incomes. Since the revolution, their numbers have grown to what UTICA describes as unmanageable levels, with many routes in central Tunis rendered unpassable by their presence.
Unemployment in the capital has increased from an already high pre-revolutionary level of 13 percent to 15.4 percent as of January this year.
Abdelmonem Fitouri, the president of Tunis’ UTICA branch told Tunisia Live, “The strike was planned against the blockage of potential customers and cars to downtown streets, which is already contravening the Interior Ministry’s orders, and harms the image of the city center. The situation is also hampered by the presence of barbed wire everywhere.”
“The banks are no longer offering traders loan facilities and, with access blocked to many of their businesses, traders cannot work”, Fitouri said.
Fitouri stressed that, with both the holy month of Ramadan and the tourist season rapidly approaching, the situation was growing urgent.
The decision to suspend the general strike came following a meeting between UTICA’s president Wided Bouchamaoui and both Interior and Trade ministers , Hedi Majdoub and Mohsen Hassan in an attempt to explore alternatives to the proposed industrial action
While strike action remains a possibility, UTICA have called for “a high-level joint committee working with the government to look for serious and realistic solutions to the scourge of parallel trade”.
According to the World Bank, tax losses due to parallel trade and smuggling in Tunisia are estimated at 1.2 billion dinars annually.
Zeineb Marzouk is a journalist at Tunisia Live newsroom. She is currently pursuing a Master's degree in English language at the university of Human and social science of Tunis (FSHST). Zeineb speaks Arabic, English, French, and Italian.