Covid-19 impact and responses: Tunisia

Updated on: 27 August 2021

What is the current situation?

General information

Tunisian Government update, please click on the following link: Covid-19 | ONMNE

  • As of August 27, 2021, Tunisia has 651,035 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infections (1st case registered on March 2, 2020) and registered 22.932 deaths. As of 27 August 2021, 3.627.286 (1st) vaccine doses have been administered, and approximately 16.4% (1.739.839) of the population of almost 12 million have received the full two doses of vaccine. The significant vaccination rate increase has helped in declining of contamination.
  • The indicators of the epidemiological situation related to the spread of the new Coronavirus in Tunisia have experienced in the last two weeks, a remarkable improvement given the decrease in the positivity rate of tests, the reduction of pressure on hospitals and the improvement of the conditions of care of infected people, said the spokeswoman of the scientific committee for the fight against the coronavirus at the Ministry of Health, Jalila Ben Khelil.
  • The positivity rate of COVID-19 tests has dropped to 15.59%, according to a press release issued by the Health Ministry on September 1, after exceeding 30% in July.
  • As part of the national vaccination campaign against the coronavirus, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Social Affairs launched a vaccination campaign for the public and private sectors of various industries from Wednesday, 4 August 2021. In a first step, the vaccination offer should be available to people over 40 years of age. In a second step, under 40-year-old will also be vaccinated. Registration required.

International help to Tunisia

  • The US has provided 1 million vaccine doses to Tunisia to help tackle its economic and pandemic issues. According to the US National Security Advisor, US would strongly support the Tunisian people and its democratic structure.
  • On Wednesday 26 August, Saudi Arabia sent a cargo plane to Tunisia carrying 608,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Current Covid-19 measures as of August 2021

  • A nationwide curfew in effect each day from midnight to 05:00 a.m.;
  • Events and gatherings in enclosed spaces (parties, weddings, events) are prohibited;
  • Restaurants and cafés are closed from 10 p.m.;
  • Outdoor events are allowed for fully vaccinated individuals;
  • Weekly markets and Friday prayers have resumed as of August 20.

Tunisia has announced that it will tighten controls on the wearing of masks in enclosed public spaces and in traffic with a fine of 90 TND for non-compliance. Furthermore, shops and restaurants are to be more closely controlled; in the event of violations, the closure of the company threatens. The Tunisian Ministry of the Interior has set up a toll-free number: 00216 80 10 11 11.

Details on entering Tunisia are available here.

Political Situation

  • On July 25, Tunisia President Kais Saied called for the emergency act, Article 80 of the constitution. The President fired his Prime Minister, suspended the parliament, and has taken charge of the executive powers and appointed only acting ministers in the parliament instead of cabinet ministers. According to the president, this act was necessary to save the country from collapse. The constitution allows to keep the emergency act in place for 30 days, but this has been prolonged on August 23 by the president. The president of Tunisia’s legal bar, Brahim Bouderbala, is among those who think the president’s decision to assume exceptional powers a month ago was positive and that prolonging the measure was to be expected because one month is not enough time to lay the groundwork for change. Tunisia’s ten-year-old democracy is living its most precarious moment. The absence of a Constitutional Court that was intended to provide guardrails against executive overreach makes the moment all the more precarious.
  • According to the recent survey conducted by Sigma Conseil, 77% of Tunisians believe that the country is on the right track.
  • Tunisia is struggling with an unprecedented fiscal deficit, which reached 11.4 per cent last year. It is also on the verge of bankruptcy, needing at least $3 billion this year to pay off foreign debts and the wages of hundreds of thousands of employees in the public sector.
  • Tunisia has faced a wave of fires targeting mainly forests. While in some cases the causes are naturally linked in particular to the rise in temperatures, in other cases, the origin is criminal.

The situation with factory production

  • Majority of the factories remains open or has reopened after the summer holidays break. Very few factories have stopped due to Covid-19, even if in some cases the absenteeism level has reached 25% or above.
  • The Covid-19 infections has improved in the past three weeks, and most of the factories are operating. In addition, vaccines are available, and garment factories (including Fair Wear member factories) are participating in the national vaccination programme where workers are vaccinated on the factory premises. The main issue now is with those who refuse to get the vaccine.
  • Tunisia’s textile industry seems doing relatively well, despite the corona pandemic, during which around 87 per cent of the suppliers remained active. The Agence de Promotion de l’Industrie et de l’Innovation reports an increase (in more sustainable production) in investment announcements for the 1st quarter of 2021. This concerns the use of gentler chemicals, the treatment of wastewater, but also the development of a system for tracking waste. The GTEX-MENATEX program of the United Nations International Trade Center supports this. In addition, there should be more emphasis on high-quality products and medical textiles.

What are the government policies to support local businesses?

  • Most of the policies from 2020 remain in place for 2021 since the Tunisian government has little room to act financially. Economic policy responses focused primarily on postponing taxes.
  • In 2021, a governmental support of 200 TND was available for the factories (apply by July 31).
  • The government has also taken several measures to help companies and unemployed workers like a delay of some tax and social contributions and bank payment of loans for people earning less than 1000 TND a month.
  • Due to the financial struggles, Tunisia was unable to start any investment programs. Instead, the central bank cut the key interest rate in two steps from 7.75 per cent to 6.25 per cent to support the financial sector. Banks have been told to defer interest payments from companies and not to charge electronic fees. The discussion about the harmonization of corporate tax rates did not contribute to the improvement of the framework conditions. The new general rate of 15 per cent means another increase for companies under the export regime after the rate had risen from 0 per cent to 10 per cent to 13.5 per cent within a few years. For companies that previously had to pay a rate of 35 per cent (including banks, insurance companies and telecommunications providers), this rate remained constant.
  • Delayed tax debts for companies having financial difficulties to a period of 7 years.
  • Payback of VAT credit to companies within 30 days.
  • Factories producing for export-only are allowed to sell 30 to 50% of their production locally.
  • The World Bank announced (April 30) its agreement to a support project of 20 million dollars (62 million TND) to support Tunisia in this health crisis of the Covid -19. The financial assistance aims to support the capacities of the health sector to cope with the pandemic and to help small and micro enterprises in this critical economic situation. Source: https://www.businessnews.com.tn/banque-mondiale–un-soutien-financier-de-20-millions-de-dollars-pour-la-tunisie,520,98024,3
  • National initiative: The set-up of a coronavirus solidarity 1818 Fund to fight against Covid-19 (individuals and companies can contribute).

What are the government policies and regulations to protect employees – the workers?

  • On 22 July 2021, Tunisia deposited with the ILO the instrument of ratification of the Promotional Framework for Occupational Safety and Health Convention, 2006 (No. 187) . Tunisia is the 53rd member State of the ILO to have ratified the Convention. Convention No. 187 will enter into force for Tunisia on 22 July 2022, one year after its ratification.
  • Most of the garment factory workers were asked to use their annual holidays, the minimum financial impact on workers.
  • Tunisia/ Indemnity of 200 TND: extension of registration deadlines on the dedicated platform (ministry): The Ministry of Social Affairs announced- the registration on the platform https://helpentreprise.social.tn for obtaining an exceptional compensation of 200 dinars has been extended to July 31, 2021, since the last registration deadlines, coincide with the celebration of Eid el-Idha. This extension came at the request of professionals, the ministry points out, calling on the people concerned to register before the expiry of the deadlines.
  • These maternity and exceptional allowances are intended for self-employed persons, their employees, as well as employees of economic companies most affected by the repercussions of the Coronavirus epidemic and by the containment measures that occurred from 09 to 16 May 2021. The Ministry calls on license holders, operating in the sectors concerned, and who have not been able to register, to send a copy of the license by e-mail, specifying precisely the number of the tax identifier.
  • Delay payment of credits for employees having incomes no more than 1000 TND/month.
  • A Covid-19 health protection protocol has been introduced for the continuity of industrial activities. This must be signed by the company and submitted for the resumption of activity.

What are local stakeholders doing to lobby their government?  

  • UTICA also provides all business operators of a complaints’ digital platform through which CEO or companies’ managers could put their complaints and/or their questions. UTICA will transmit these requests to the relevant institutions in order to find solutions. The hypertext address: https://forms.gle/H6McZhLn2ubNZE2D7
  • Set up of a multi-stakeholders’ governmental committee devoted to fellow up the most impacted companies by Covid-19. It is composed of representatives from ministry of finance and ministry of social affairs, the Tunisian Central Bank, UTICA (employers’ organization, UGTT, Tunisian Professional Association of Banks and Financial Institutions and UTAP (trade union of agriculture and fishing). Its main objective is to save jobs and protect workers’ rights.

What are local organisation doing to support and protect workers?

  • On the occasion of the 2021 Francophonie Summit to be hosted by Djerba on November 20-21, TheNextWomenTunisia and African Propaganda are organising in partnership with the French Institute of Tunisia, a pitch competition for innovative projects, the Confederation of Tunisian Citizen Enterprises (CONECT) announced on August 31. This competition would allow innovative French-speaking companies and startups founded or co-founded by women to present a business idea in a new format. Eligibility criteria are Innovation, Social Impact, being a founder or co-founder, presenting the pitch in French and having more than one year of activity.
  • The powerful UGTT union and others asked the president Said to provide a roadmap for the future.
  • A new COVID-19 assistance fund, managed by APII and financed by the German Cooperation offers rapid assistance to textile companies, having incurred additional costs due to the Coronavirus pandemic to protect their employees in the workplace and to maintain production. With a total budget of EUR 250 000, this fund is intended to help small and medium-sized enterprises with between 10 and 250 employees and will reimburse them for their costs: http://www.tunisieindustrie.nat.tn/fr/appui_pme.asp
  • For big size companies aid: The German Development Bank KfW has awarded a grant of 66 million dinars (20 million euros) to the Republic of Tunisia to help preserve jobs in private companies affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information please download the press release on this program. The grant program is led by the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Investment Support, which has mandated the Central Bank of Tunisia (BCT) to implement it
  • The health crisis is part of a toned political climate within the country and a widespread mistrust of institutions. In the spring of 2020, during the lockdown, the Tunisian state had set up a solidarity fund that raised nearly 62 million euros. But its management and distribution of funding in the fight against the pandemic have been criticized for their opacity.
  • On 31 March, the Tunisian government and the Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail (UGTT) signed an agreement on restructuring public companies and reforming the subsidy and tax system. Habib Hazami, general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union textile and garment affiliate FGTHCC-UGTT said: “Given the economic and social difficulties that the country is experiencing in the shadow of Covid-19 and in the face of the economic downturn and deteriorating conditions, we are counting on this agreement in the private sector as well. We hope that the work of these committees will lead to a clear vision and practical conclusions, especially with regard to the tax system and achieving social justice. The textile sector is one of the most prominent sectors that suffer shortcomings in this regard and it need consistent measures to achieve economic and social recovery.”

What have been the responses and requests of business associations to support the industry?

No information available yet.

What are international brands doing to support suppliers and protect workers?

  • No examples from brands have been reported yet

Relevant links for more information

Covid-19: Unions mobilise across Middle East/North Africa
IMF: Policy responses to Covid-19
Ministry of Health National Observatory of New and Emerging Diseases (ONMNE Tunisia) – Phone: +216 71 284 542 / 547/ 560/ 561
Current country analysis on Covid-19 as of April 26
STOP CORONA campaign