On Thursday January 27, Prime Minister Habib Essid proposed several urgent measures aimed at employment in response to wave of employment protests that have spread across Tunisia in the second half of January.
Essid’s proposals were as close to declaring an economic ‘state of emergency’ as Tunisia, with its declining tourism revenues and already massive debts could muster. The proposals (if enacted) are far from a solution to Tunisia’s structural economic problems, but they are at long last after two weeks of protests, a response.
In a second day of questions at the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP), after a session on Wednesday which was could be best described as a summary of the Tunisia’s economic and social situation, Prime Minister Essid made four major economic proposals on Thursday, which included: accelerating administrative procedures, the announcement of a private sector pledge to hire 50,000 workers in 2016, financial assistance to young entrepreneurs, and a massive increase to annual military recruiting caps.
The approval, and feasibility of the proposals remains to be seen, pending further elaboration and the ensuing ARP debates. But in placing the onus on the private sector and limiting the government’s role to military recruitment and away from implausible promises of municipal or administrative employment, the intention was to signal a clear break with previous approaches to Tunisia’s economic woes. Furthermore Thursday’s announcements showed the first tangible signs of life from a government criticized for its thus far lackluster response to a nationwide wave employment protests.
Amongst smaller measures, the four major announcements Prime Minister Essid proposed included:
- Increasing annual enlistment in the Tunisian National Army from 5,000 to 30,000.
- Essid also announced an agreement reached Wided Bouchamaoui, the President of the Tunisian Union of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA), to create 50,000 private sector jobs in retail and services by the end of 2016.
- University graduates seeking to self-finance their own business initiatives, ‘on basis of their diploma’ would receive a government financing of 10% of the overall value of the project.
- Administrative requests, excluding those relating to the ‘environment and weapons permits’, would be automatically approved if no decision is issued within thirty days. Currently administrative requests are considered automatically rejected if no decision is rendered within sixty days.
The devil, however, is as always in the details.
The employment protests began, and continue, in the interior. 50,000 private sector jobs in services and retail are unlikely to affect an interior bereft of a significant service economy. The move is a welcome, and urgently needed, reaffirmation that public sector hiring will not feature prominently in any long term solutions and the answer lies in the private sector. But it will only bear fruit in wealthier coastal areas and the target of 50,000 may not be achievable in an economic reality which will not include tourism for the foreseeable future.
Yet as sit-in protests continue, with hundreds if not thousands of unemployed resolutely demanding to fill out applications for municipal jobs that do not exist and will not be created, the move offers a plausible, albeit localized and perhaps unrealistically ambitious, alternative to public sector hiring.
The move towards a 30 day approval process for administrative procedures is easier said than done. Already administrative judge Ahmed Souab declared a 30 day limit was ‘legally and logistically impossible’ given the number of administrative judges. Rather than being viewed as measure likely to be approved anytime soon, Essid’s proposal should instead be viewed as an opening salvo in the Herculean task of untangling the Gordian knot that compose Tunisia’s labyrinthine and molasses like administrative procedures.
With regards to the 10% assisted financing, that too is a step in the right direction, but for anyone wanting to open a business in Tunisia and even more so first time entrepreneurs the aforementioned administrative procedures are such an obstacle that they discourage most from even attempting to procure the necessary funding. The potential success of any financing measures will be directly related to the easing of administrative procedures.
On Thursday Prime Minister Essid gave some veracity to his Wednesday statement that his government had “started to find solutions. We don’t have solutions for everybody but we do have some solutions,”
It’s a start.
The employment protests in Tunisia began in Kasserine following the funeral of Ridha Yahyaoui on Sunday, January, 17. Yahyaoui, an unemployed man in his twenties, had been participating in sit in protests outside the municipal headquarters with other unemployed youth demanding municipal jobs. On Saturday January 16, upon discovering that his name had been removed from a list job candidates maintained by the municipality, Yahyaoui climbed an electric post near the sit-in. Accounts differ as to whether he was climbing the post to deliver a speech or to make a suicide threat. Whether accidentally or as an intentional act of suicide, but what is certain is that Yahyaoui came into contact with the high tension wires and was electrocuted. Yahyaoui was transported to the regional hospital in Sfax where he pronounced dead late on Saturday, January 16.
The Ministry of Vocational Training and Employment’s website lists Tunisia’s overall unemployment rate for 2014 as 15% against a rate of 15.3% in 2013, and 16.7% in 2012. Youth unemployment stands in excess of 30% nationally and higher in certain regions, particularly the interior governorates of Sidi Bouzid and Kasserine.