Protests have erupted across Tunisia against the government’s decision to revoke law 38 that deals with providing government sector jobs for those unemployed for over 10 years, multiple news reports stated on Monday, November 22. On Sunday, protests were witnessed in Kasserine, Jendouba, Sidi Bouzid, Gafsa, and several other cities and towns. Hundreds of university graduates and unemployed persons participated in the protests and organized demonstrations and sit-ins in front of government and municipal buildings around the country.
President Kais Saied, who assumed full executive powers in July in what many called a “presidential coup”, approved and ordered the publication of the decision to revoke law 38 in the official gazette, suggesting in its place that unemployed people should try to find jobs in the private sector since the government is no longer able to employ public servants.
Law 38 was issued on August 13, 2020, and stipulated exceptional provisions for assignment in the government sector for those whose unemployment status was longer than 10 years. According to reports, over 29,000 Tunisians over the age of 35 fall under this category, with the real figure expected to be substantially higher. According to activist Ashwaq al-Ajlani, law 38 is a “red line” as it affects graduates from the neglected and marginalized regions of the country who are heavily dependent on this law to gain employment and make ends meet, especially in a stagnated and declining economy which, for now, has shown no sign of recovering. Al-Ajlani said that the protesters will continue their demonstrations until their demand for reversing this decision is met.
Protesters reiterated that it is their right to be assigned to public offices as per this law. Several of them chanted that the revocation of the law is akin to “killing their dreams”. Al-Ajlani added that the government’s claim of being incapable of providing jobs to the unemployed is false. He cited the example of 3,000 public school teachers who are nearing retirement and will leave their positions vacant soon.
Faiza Alaqi, member of the regional coordinating body “Employment is my right” in Kasserine, told news media that there are planned sit-ins in front of the city’s municipal offices and that 12 protesters have already embarked on hunger strikes to protest the law’s revocation.
In a related development, protesters in the city of Tataouine in the oil-rich southern region said that they will be launching a wave of protests in the area after their ultimatum to the government regarding provision of employment expired on Monday. The “”Kamour Sit-in Coordination” group, which is spearheading the protests, said that they will be blocking important roads leading to the oil fields if their demands for employment are not met. In previous weeks, protesters have been regularly blocking roads and preventing trucks from delivering supplies to the pumping station in Kamour, which is a crucial site for Tunisia’s oil industry. Protesters say that the government must come good on its 2017 promise of giving the locals jobs in the lucrative oil sector.
Tunisia has been embroiled in political uncertainty since the president captured all legislative and executive powers in July. Protesters, critics and the opposition have asserted that this amounts to a “presidential coup”. Since then, there have been several protests and demonstrations demanding that the country be brought back under a normal functioning government in accordance with the Tunisian constitution, which includes restoring the parliament and a legitimate government. Some are even calling for early legislative elections to resolve the political crisis and infighting, which is threatening the plans for a much needed economic recovery to address the various issues plaguing ordinary Tunisians, such as poverty, unemployment and inflation.