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More than 100 airport workers reinstated in Tunisia as unions fight back

05 Jul 2021

Airport workers have won back their jobs, thwarting attempts by TAV Airports in Tunisia to use Covid-19 as cover to break up union activities.

Tunisian affiliate the Fédération Nationale des Transports (FNT) and ITF campaigned — and won — against the unfair and illegal dismissal of 109 workers at the end of May.

TAV Tunisia fired workers at Enfidha-Hammamet and Monastir Habib Bourguiba International airports, both in the Sousse province, around 100km south of Tunis. They did this illegally, without any consultation. They seemed to target union activists. Twelve of those fired were union leaders. 

Now, thanks to union pressure, the 109 have been reinstated with full back pay covering the period of their dismissal. The company has also agreed to negotiate with local unions a set of criteria for dismissals in the future, to protect workers against this type of politically motivated and deeply unjust action.

“This kind of mass dismissal without union consultation is illegal under Tunisian law,” said Gabriel Mocho Rodriguez, ITF’s Civil Aviation and Tourism Services Secretary. “And the company ignored every union representation on the matter. It follows a tense period where union leaders and activists were frequently intimated by managers and where pay cuts have been imposed without discussion.  We believe this adds up to an attempt at union busting by the company.”

Lobbying of the Tunisian Labour Ministry and other parts of government by FNT with support from Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) and ITF bore fruit when the Governor of Sousse province, Rajaa Trabelsi, stepped in, forcing TAV management to the negotiation table.

The company argued that financial pressures brought on by the pandemic necessitated the dismissals, but data published in the business press exposed this as a lie —  the company has plenty of resources to survive Covid-19 without firing people.

In a first meeting between TAV management, government representatives and unions, the company accepted the dismissals were wrong and agreed to reinstate all the workers. A further meeting is planned where unions and management will discuss more effective ways of dealing with the business impacts of the pandemic.

“Tunisia is a new democracy and it’s great to see how effective its democratic structures can be,” said Bilal Malkawi, ITF Arab World Secretary. “We’re in a down and dirty fight for fair and just treatment of workers in this wider region. The unions’ campaign and UGTT support, plus the intervention of the Governor shows things working as they should. Tunisia can be an example for us all.”