Protesters blocked railways and roads in the city center of Metlaoui, (Governorate of Gafsa) preventing trains carrying phosphates and buses carrying employees of the Gafsa Phosphates Company (CPG – Compagnie des Phosphates de Gafsa) from circulating on Tuesday, April 12.
The protesters, unemployed university graduates, are demanding the regional economic development, employment within CPG and the publication of the results of the CPG’s latest recruitment contest.
On Wednesday, March 23, eight members of a group of unemployed protesters who staged a ‘sit in’ by constructing a makeshift concrete and stone wall on the railways leading to the nearby El Guettar phosphate production facility were handed prison sentences ranging from six months to two years by the first instance court of Gafsa.
While protests at the Petrofac natural gas facility and the general strike on on the island of Kerkennah which followed the breakup by security forces of a production halting protest there last week it is in fact the phosphates sector which has been the hardest hit by recurring sit ins since 2011.
Production at Metlaoui, which produces 60% of Tunisia’s phosphate, has been brought to a halt by sit-in protests blocking roads and rails since January 2016 and had only just recently resumed.
Earlier in March , the CEO of the Gafsa Phosphate Company (GPC), Romdhane Souid, said the publicly owned company had recorded losses of an estimated 5 billion TND since 2010. Souid said the GPC’s phosphate production was down 60%, since 2010 down to an annual production of 3.2 million tonnes in 2015.
In February, Hafedh Ben Yahiya, the CPG’s Production Manager told TAP that “commercial phosphate production had not exceeded 361,000 tons from January 1 to February 6, down 41% compared to the same period last year.”
The breakup of the Petrofac protest and the prison sentences meted out for the protesters who demonstrated their masonry skills on the rails of El Guettar followed statements on Tuesday March 22, by Government spokesman, Khaled Chouket, who said:
“The protests that take place both on the extraction sites of natural resources must stop. The state can no longer remain silent while faced with these protests which are economic terrorism exercised against us, particularly in such a delicate period.” adding “Therefore, the state will use all legal means to protect jobs and the workplace. The right to demonstrate and protest is certainly guaranteed, but not at when it is at the expense of productivity and work.”