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Time is not propitious for wage-increases proposes President of UTICA

How UTICA will proceed to set the production apparatus in motion and with whom? This is one of the tasks which the new leading team of the employers’ organization has started working on, a few days after entrusting Hamadi Ben Sedrine with the presidency until the organization of the employers’ organization Congress.

In his first media appearance in that capacity, Hamadi Ben Sedrine gave African Manager an exclusive interview in which he answered all questions worth to be asked as the Utica starts negotiating a turning point for Tunisian employers and businesses in general:


How is the situation, first, within the Utica and also in relation to the economic situation 
resulting from the Revolution? 

Regarding the structures of Utica, there are two stages: the first is the one during which we started elections at local and regional levels. We decided that if these elections do not meet the needs of the members, they would be re-organized. We are resuming these elections on solid, clear and transparent foundations. We will continue these elections from the National Council to be held, Saturday, March 19, during which we will discuss a number of issues of common interest and the development of the employers’ situation and review works of the committees, including those tasked with the preparation of Utica National Congress.

There are also economic and social aspects, the revision of certain codes and revision of regulations and rules of the Organization.

In accordance with the decisions that will have been taken by the National Council, we will launch all-out the electoral process at regional, national and sectoral levels. 

Do you think you have all the resources and enough time to complete these actions 
while you are required to comply with an incompressible deadline, that of June 2011, date of the congress? 

Today, with the appointment of the new Prime Minister, with the formation of a government of technocrats, we believe that we can now be organized within the Utica in a 
calm and constructive spirit. 

What mechanisms you deem necessary to set up to cope with the protests within the Organization? 

The point is, first, to convince each other that the essential objective and reason are not 
personal interests. It is the interests of the Tunisian employers’ organization and beyond the interests of this Organization, the interest of the new Tunisia, Tunisia of the Revolution, of full democracy and total freedom.

 I know these are qualities that are difficult to implement quickly, because we are going through difficult circumstances, and all those who have gone through 
Revolutions have spent a long, long time before achieving what they aspired to. We’ve done better; the phase lasted only a few weeks. 

We asked the Prime Minister to persevere in the path to social peace in the country. Much has been done but much remains to be done too. If we progress in the direction outlined by the government, we can expect good results economically and socially. 

What would you say to your detractors in the Utica and which call would you launch
to them ? 

First, I appeal to the Government.  I launch a priority call to ensure the country’s security…, and ensure that the Revolution achieves the objectives for which it was made. 
The second task for the government is to fully compensate damage. It is in Tunisia’s interest that this compensation takes place as soon as possible, because many Businesses are off, either because they were burned, or because they were looted,and they are no longer able to renew their raw materials. Therefore a very large number of workers face redundancy in the weeks to come. Some estimates point to loss of 150,000 jobs. 

Can we consider that a condition that you weigh to bring support to the government? 

The situation we are living through today requires resumption of business. We must help the resumption of foreign investment. We must trust this Government, and in so doing, we trust ourselves. We must prepare for a better future. 
The situation is very bad, as that there are now 500,000 jobseekers and the damage has not been compensated and reimbursed, in addition to the forced return of Tunisian workers in Libya.

 Do you think this Government has the profile to meet these expectations? 

In any case, it has the will to move forward, slowly but surely. 

But the fact remains that so far the Government has not pointed to an economic strategy that goes in that direction … 

Today, there is only question of first steps, but in the future, there will be a roadmap. And by the end of this month we will have a table, a clear timing of the evolution of the political, economic and social situation. 

Let us come to your social partner, the UGTT, which is taking up ground, while, obviously, this is not the case for you. How to explain, if we might say, this order of battle? 

Agitation should not be confused with activity. The nuance is significant. We have obeyed certain fundamental principles since January 14. We have largely contributed to reduce the damage by opening small stores to enable people to have flour and other foodstuffs at a time when larger malls were in flames. 
All employers’ structures were mobilized from local Unions to other levels of the organization.  Neither UGTT, nor the Government were aware of that. 
While we were conducting activities to spare the people chaos and supply them with bread, others were merely delivering speeches. It is the people who interest us in the highest degree. The Utica is an entity of action.
Certainly, for decades, we were not talking because we work in silence. I would mention the example of the emergency relief provided for disaster-stricken people in Ras Jedir. 
Do you know that Utica has sent six truckloads of emergency aid to Ras Jedir? We have done it with discretion. 
It is time for action. We should embark on the path to progress, to the shortest path to investment and employment. We should not turn around, because this hinders the development of the country. 

Social negotiations are on the agenda. Does not this event require a calm climate?

I say to all our partners that we are fully willing to engage in social negotiations. However, the current situation does not allow companies to recover their strength, and they must recover it.  As former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing said: “before plucking a turkey, it must be fattened.”
With zero growth and an alarming economic situation, social partners must take into account the economic and financial situation. We must meet on a negotiating table to determine a date during which we will increase wages. We only reflect the deep and important feeling of our rank and file.

Does that mean you advocate the postponement of wage negotiations? 

I cannot answer this question. I would like simply to tell you that we will put on the table all the elements we have at the economic and financial levels. And then those who have a minimum trust and love for this country will understand that time is not right for wage increases. 

Will you be running for the chairmanship of the Utica for the next Congress? 

The question does not arise. It is not topical. 

But this event (election) requires speed, at least for the electoral process as a whole … 

Let me tell you it will take at least two months for local elections, and as much for regional, national and sectoral elections. Then will come the Ramadan.   
It is the National Council which will decide on the date of the Congress, particularly the
commission tasked with the preparation of this meeting. No doubt, this will take time.

Last question: How far the current audit mission in Utica has proceeded? 

Hedi Jilani was the first to request an audit mission, because he was convinced that everything was going on in full transparency. The first report of the audit mission, which was entrusted to an incorruptible, impartial and independent side, confirms that the finances of Utica were clean.


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