By Eng. Chokri ASLOUJ*
The most significant event, which turned Tunisia’s recent history upside down and which had repercussions on a regional and even global scale, was undoubtedly the 2011 revolution, the one that went down in history as revolution of freedom and dignity. One of the slogans most chanted by the raging crowds across the country during this popular uprising was then: “Job is a right, band of brigands”.
The cliché of the century of a certain young street vendor, answering to the name of Mohamed Bouazizi, setting himself on fire, after having seen his display of fortune confiscated and after having suffered the aggression of a policewoman while trying to save his earnings -bread, has traveled the world and inspired so many other oppressed peoples to rise up against their tyrants. This act of individual desperation could only have caused the firedamp that we all know, because this spark, which occurred in the confines of deep Tunisia, found an explosive mixture throughout the country, idle youth, university graduates with no prospects, disparities in regional development, a feeling of injustice and generalized humiliation, freedoms and rights flouted by a repressive regime, a rentier economy which only fills the pockets of the mafia and impoverishes the rest of the people, degraded to a desperate populace, etc.
The expression “Work gives dignity to man”, and I would even say that it gives him his identity and a meaning to his existence, is not just a slogan, but a verifiable truth. In a materialistic world and our society is no exception, human beings are and are worth what they have. Our dispossessed, marginalized, destitute and jobless fellow citizens, whom we see more and more bent over the garbage cans to find something to satisfy their hunger, will be an eternal curse for all those who have contributed to the bankruptcy of our dear homeland. Today, an estimated 4 million Tunisians have fallen below the poverty line, knowing that the post-Covid crisis has only just begun and not to mention the repercussions of the Russian-Ukrainian war and its possible overflow. uncontrolled towards a global conflict, which will necessarily be nuclear and which will lead to the collapse of the world economy and the monetary system that goes with it.
In 2010, the number of unemployed was 500,000, including 157,000 university graduates, this number jumped in 2012 following the unrest linked to the revolution to 700,000, including 220,000 university graduates. At the end of the past year, the number of unemployed is estimated at 770,000. The acknowledgment of the failure of public employment policies is, to say the least, blatant.
To manage the explosive social situation, which threatened to shake the foundations of the State and to meet the expectations of the crowds eager to taste the fruits of the revolution, the government decreed in 2011 the creation of 50,000 jobs, while the rate growth was practically zero. Economists agree, however, that employment cannot be decreed and that only economic growth can create real employment. According to Okun’s law, there would be a proven relationship between GDP growth and job creation. However, and according to a recent study by the IMF, its impact may differ from one country to another, depending on the specificities of the respective national economies, and could also evolve over time within the same country. The diagram shows the impact of 1% GDP growth on job creation in the G20 countries, which take up the bulk of GDP and the global labor market (with the exception of India for which there was no reliable data). The diagram highlights that, in the majority of countries, economic growth generates jobs, even if the importance of its impact differs from one country to another. In South Africa, Australia and Canada, a 1% increase in GDP generates an increase of at least 0.6% in the labor market. By contrast, growth had only a marginal or even negative effect on employment in China, Indonesia and Turkey.
In Tunisia, estimates vary from 10,000 to 40,000 new jobs created for 1% growth rate. Job creation without growth, such as that which took place in post-revolution Tunisia, therefore amounted to financing fictitious jobs. To further worsen the economic situation, wage increases have been imposed following some 50,000 strikes, decreed by the unions. All in all, salaries in the public sector have doubled in ten years. Indeed, the average gross salary of public officials has increased from 1,298 Tunisian dinars (DT) in 2010 to 2,608 DT in 2021. In 2022, the wage bill now amounts to 21.6 billion dinars, which swallows up nearly half of the state budget. The icing on the cake, this budgetary burden is hardly reflected in the improvement of public sector services, on the contrary we are witnessing an unprecedented drop in the quality of public services and the productivity of public enterprises. Both the creation of new jobs and the increase in wages were therefore not the result of the creation of new wealth or of the improvement of productivity and efficiency in existing activities, On the contrary, it was rather imposed by endless strikes, which destroyed wealth, forced active companies to relocate and chased away new investors who were interested in our country. Indeed capital, according to the words of a certain Head of Government, is notoriously cowardly and, therefore, it never ventures into countries where the unions reign supreme.
Faced with the lack of their own resources, the governments, weakened by a hybrid political system and an all-powerful trade union federation, have had no choice but to resort to the easy solution, which is nothing other than massive foreign debt. However, wages without counterpart in production, that quite simply creates inflation. Thus our economic and financial plan was completed: during the last decade, we simply financed inflation with foreign debt, the unfortunate consequences of which future generations will still have to bear for a long time.
In my opinion, only the acceptance of a social truce by the Ugtt, to which the provisional President of the time of the troika called, coupled with a national consensus supported by the main political formations of the time and coupled with a war without mercy , sincere and not instrumentalized against corruption and bad governance, which cost our country 6 to 7 points of growth, could have saved Tunisia from the abyss towards which it was heading at full speed. Sadly, none of it was, our politicians were obsessed with infighting in their dumb and wicked quests for power and cared little for the hurting people. They were simply gaining time by caressing the people and their unions in the direction of the hair to ensure the next electoral ballot and to preserve a biased social peace, without taking into account the descent into hell of the whole country.
Today, all the actors, who have contributed to this multidimensional misery, must make their “mea-culpa” instead of throwing accusations at each other, otherwise the people will soon read them all the Levites.
What to do ?
First, and according to what has gone before, the solution to the employment problem necessarily involves economic growth, which, in turn, requires the creation of wealth. Then, we would have to innovate and find a more elaborate way to distribute this wealth fairly and preserve social peace, other than going on strikes, which destroy wealth and create unemployment as a result.
The development of the green hydrogen sector will enable Tunisia to create wealth from renewable, free and abundant resources, in this case seawater and renewable energies (solar, wind and marine). In 2050, the global market for green hydrogen is estimated at $2.5 trillion and it will essentially depend on us to determine our share of this cake.
Worldwide, it is estimated that more than 30 million have the potential of the green hydrogen sector to create new direct jobs by 2050. In France alone, 150,000 jobs will be created in the same period.
According to a survey conducted by the National Observatory of Migration (ONM), the National Institute of Statistics (INS) and the International Center for the Development of Migration Policies (Icmpd), 39,000 Tunisian engineers left Tunisia to foreign countries between 2015 and 2020. Knowing that the engineer at Tunisair receives less than his colleague, a cleaning agent, according to what Olfa Hamdi revealed when she held the reins of the Gazelle, and that is not Hardly an exception in the public sector, this much-maligned forced intellectual drain, the brain drain, that the country has suffered in recent years should come as no surprise to anyone. The development of the green hydrogen sector in its various activities (research, development, studies, design, project management, installation, operation, maintenance, etc.) will open up new prospects for well-paid jobs for higher education graduates, such as doctoral students/researchers, engineers, technicians, operators, etc. in various existing or new disciplines. However, a considerable effort of training specific to hydrogen will have to be provided to give Tunisian skills the means to impose themselves in this field in full bloom. This will undoubtedly limit the brain drain to begin with and, at a certain stage of this development, we may even witness the reversal of this trend. Our fellow citizens with a low level of education will not, however, be forgotten. Indeed, no more than 4%, mainly plastic, of the 2.6 million tons of household waste produced in Tunisia each year are currently recovered by some 8,000 rag pickers. “barbechas”.
In a previous article, I exposed the opportunity to consider household waste as a resource and a source of wealth instead of treating it as a problem to be eliminated, as is currently the case. The sorting, recycling and recovery on a large industrial scale of household waste and more particularly of 68% biodegradable waste, as part of the development of a green economy around green hydrogen, could generate up to 100,000 jobs and offer more decent work to our fellow citizens without diplomas.
*Former President of the Council for Engineering Sciences
The Order’s think-tank Tunisian Engineers