Tunisia: pandemic weighs down the economy, with disastrous social consequences - Jeune Afrique

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Soaring unemployment, new wave of bankruptcies in sight: the measures taken by Tunisia to cope with the surge in coronavirus cases will have disastrous social consequences, observers warn.

"The first wave of the epidemic (from March to June, Editor's note) resulted in the loss of 165 jobs according to our estimates," said Béchir Boujday, member of the executive board of Utica, the main body representing the employers in Tunisia.

40% of craft businesses have already gone out of business, and around 35% of SMEs are "threatened with bankruptcy," he worries as the authorities announced a series of new restrictions to stem the pandemic.

Since March, Tunisia has identified on its soil almost 27 cases of Covid-000, including 19 deaths as of October 409, according to the authorities. The country is currently recording more than 20 deaths from the disease per day, compared to 50 in total between March and the end of June.

General confinement ruled out

The authorities banned all gatherings in early October and since Thursday have reinstated a curfew for 15 days in many areas of the country, especially in the entire Tunis region.

The government, however, ruled out a general containment like the one that had been put in place in the spring, stressing that the country did not have the means.

In the first half of the year, the unemployment rate fell from 15% to 18%, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INS). It could reach 21,6% by the end of the year according to a joint study by the government and the UN, which would represent nearly 274 new unemployed in 500.

Many jobs have disappeared in the informal sector, which employs some 44% of Tunisian workers according to the INS, particularly in agriculture, catering, commerce or tourism, key sectors hit hard by the pandemic.

In cafes in Tunis and other areas heavily affected by the pandemic, chairs have been banned by authorities. A decision which “endangers 100 families”, according to the union chamber of coffee owners.

“Who will pay the employees? "

Majdi Chabbar, manager of a Tunisian bar-restaurant, loses "up to 90% of turnover" by opening only from 12 p.m. to 20 p.m. due to the curfew, but has not closed shop "so that employees hold on ”.

Yesser, one of his waiters, now gets half his salary and works every other day. But "there is no tip, because people do not come", worries the young man who pays for his studies and helps his parents with his income.

"How are we going to work? We will be forced to close. And when I close, who will pay the employees? », Says Ali Ben Rached, owner of a café, who can no longer serve his twenty tables on the terrace. He calls on the authorities to provide assistance "at least on the salaries of employees and the CNSS", the Tunisian social security.

Little room for maneuver

The country, relying largely on international donors, was already struggling to meet social expectations before the pandemic, Tunisians denouncing the lack of improvement in their standard of living ten years after the revolution.

During the general confinement in March, the government paid one-off aid of 200 dinars (67 euros) to the most deprived families and promised an aid plan of 700 million dinars (235 million euros) for companies.

But the government has little room for maneuver to come to the aid of the economy, as the indicators are so red. According to the INS, Tunisia recorded a record contraction of 21,6% of its GDP in the second quarter of 2020.

THEformer prime minister Elyes Fakhfakh had already warned in June that the indebtedness had reached "a frightening level", the external debt of the country having "exceeded the red line" by reaching 60% of the GDP, to 92 billion dinars (about 30 billion dinars). euros).

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