CHAD: Threat of public sector strikes still hangs over government

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Trade unions in Chad have suspended a strike that closed hospitals and schools in the capital for three months, but some analysts are warning that the unions remain a powerful disruptive force and the significance of the strikes should not be underestimated.

The strike, which started on 2 May, was suspended by union leaders on 27 August, pending arbitration by the International Conferation of Unions in Geneva, according to a communiqué released by union leaders. Union leaders threatened to take their dispute onto the streets but four-month strike turned out to be peaceful.

“The strike is not over - it is simply suspended and can restart at any moment,” union coordinator Djibrine Assali told IRIN. Large numbers of people in N’djamena, including from within the unions, have expressed frustration at the continued disruption and accused union leaders of enriching themselves at the expense of ordinary Chadians, but Assali said the results of the strike have “so far been positive”.

“We have obtained a 15 percent increase in salaries, and an increase of 2,000 CFA francs (US$4) to the pension benefits,” he said, referring to an offer made to the unions by Chad’s President Idriss Deby in early June.

The Economist Intelligence Unit on 28 August warned that public sector strikes in Chad could be “of more immediate importance to the stability of the [Chadian] state” than an ongoing armed conflict in the country’s remote eastern region between the army and several armed groups opposed to Chad’s President Deby.

“The strikes are another visible element of the deterioration of the overall situation in Chad,” said Juliette Grundman, Chad editor at the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) in London. “The strikes definitely reveal a climate of growing social unrest and tiredness among the population from a lack of improvement of their day to day life, which comes in addition to all the political tension and military threats to the regime.”

However, many Chadians have expressed more disgruntlement with the unions for causing the disruption than the state for allegedly provoking them. The strike called on 2 May was the latest in a series of actions which have paralysed the state-run infrastructure in Chad’s capital, and sometimes the country’s oil industry, several times since 2005.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Chad spends around 12 percent of its gross domestic product on the military. Chadian economists have said the government does not have a great deal of surplus cash with which to meet the unions’ demands.

Source: IRIN