Covid-19 impact and responses: Tunisia

Updated on: 1 May, 2020

What is the current situation?

General information

  • As of April 30, 2020, Tunisia has 975 confirmed cases (1st case registered on 2 March) and 40 deaths. The Covid-19 outbreak comes at a time when Tunisia is already facing persistent macroeconomic imbalances. Moreover, the country suffers from a precarious economy and limited health infrastructure, especially a lack of sanitary equipment. The country has about 250 intensive care beds for nearly 11.5 million inhabitants.
  • The Tunisian government imposed a curfew and a general lockdown (le confinement total) since 22 March, which will continue until at least 3 May. Only a few vital sectors, such as health and food sectors, can stay active. On 23 March, Tunisia’s President Kais Saied deployed the army to the streets to force people to respect the lockdown imposed to halt the spread of the coronavirus. From 6pm to 6am each day, both police officers and soldiers are on patrol to ensure no one leaves their homes. The only exception is when locals need medical attention. Otherwise, no outdoor activity is allowed. Although a relatively low number of cases have been confirmed, the government has chosen to take ‘proactive measures’ against the coronavirus spread.
  • The Minister of Education, Mohamed Hamdi, declared on 29 April that the school year is over for all levels except for Bachelors (4th school year).
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) sent a letter to the Tunisian government saying that Tunisia is among the countries closest to controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
  • The head of government (Chef du government, Mr Fakfakh) announced the creation of a national commission (Covid-19 Solidarity Fund 1818) to fight against the coronavirus, and that several accompanying measures will be taken to help its citizens.
  • The government has also taken several measures to help companies and unemployed workers delay some taxes, social contributions and loan payments. This applies to people earning less than 1000 TND a month.
  • Tunisia suspended all international flights and closed its land border in an effort to prevent the outbreak of the coronavirus. All gatherings and markets have been banned and work hours for state employees have been reduced. Travel is banned except for repatriation and quarantining of returning nationals. Schools are closed.

The situation with factory production

  • All factories with the exception of factories producing ‘medical strategic cloths and equipment’ are required to stop production until the 4 April. Out of 4,500.00 workers, only 1,500.00 will be working (mainly in hospitals, clinics and some food industries).
  • Factories that received government authorisation to continue work and stay active must also register on this website.
  • Four factories related to Fair Wear brands have resumed 20% production, having received the authorisation to do so.

What are the government policies to support local businesses?

  • Tunisia benefits from a surge of sympathy and solidarity in the face of the health crisis generated by the spread of the coronavirus. Several parties among the donors have come forward to announce substantial financial assistance programs.
  • The International Monetary Fund will disburse 400 million dollars (1200 million TND) to help the country face with the effects of the crisis (finance minister Nizar Yaich). Tunisian banks will postpone the repayment of loans by citizens in need by six months to help alleviate the social and economic impact of the crisis.
  • The European Union has granted Tunisia EUR 250 million in aid to help it cope with the economic and social effects of the coronavirus outbreak. Italy has granted EUR 50 million, the equivalent about 180 million TND.
  • On 30 April, the World Bank announced its agreement to a support project of US$20 million (62 million TND) to support Tunisia in this health crisis. The financial assistance aims to support the capacities of the health sector to cope with the pandemic, as well as to help small and micro enterprises in this critical economic situation.
  • National initiative: The set up of a coronavirus solidarity 1818 Fund to fight against Covid-19 (individuals and companies can contribute). This fund has collected 200 million TND so far.
  • For workers:
    • Provide 300 million TND in order to pay workers in technical unemployment. Factories can apply for ‘technical unemployment’ for their workers, which is 50% of a monthly salary.
    • Provide an exceptional amount of 150 million TND that is to go towards vulnerable social classes in the form of bonuses.
  • The Central Bank proposed that the banks give out bank cards without any fees in an effort to encourage workers not to use cash (possible Covid-19 transmitter) and to not take fees on card payments received by the company.
  • Factories can postpone the payment of taxes for 3 months starting from 1 April. In addition, the social contributions to CNSS pertaining to the second quarter can be postponed for a period of 3 months.
  • The announcement of an emergency complementary fund of 300 million dollars to support small and medium sized companies.
  • 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.

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

  • Most of the garment factory workers were asked to use their annual holidays, the minimum financial impact on workers.
  • Delay in credit payments for employees with incomes of no more than 1000 TND/month.
  • Covid-19 national online information monitored per province
  • The revision of the employment contract in Tunisian law at the time of the coronavirus. Terminating an employment contract because of the coronavirus (Covid-19) is unfair dismissal from a legal standpoint. The new provisions of Decree No. 2 of 14 April, 2020 following the epidemic:
    • Suspension of title 3 of article 14 of the labour code. Article 14:
      • The fixed-term employment contract ends with the expiration of the agreed duration or by the completion of the work covered by the contract.
      • The open-ended contract ends when the notice period expires.
      • The fixed-term or open-ended employment contract ends:
        1. By agreement of the parties;
        2. By the will of one of the parties following a serious fault committed by the other party;
        3. In the event of impediment of execution resulting either from a fortuitous event or force majeure occurring before or during the execution of the contract, or from the death of the worker;
        4. By the resolution pronounced by the judge in the cases determined by law;
        5. In other cases, provided for by law.
    • Suspension of Article 21-12 of the labour code:
      • The dismissal or layoff occurred without prior notice from the regional committee or the central dismissal control committee, except in cases of force majeure or agreement between the two parties concerned.
      • Modification of the provisions of paragraph one of the Article 117 of the labour code (new):
        • Annual leave is granted for the past year or the current year.
        • It may be granted during another period of the year under collective or individual agreements or by the employer when the necessity of the work so requires and after the opinion of the work’s advisory committee or of the delegates.
        • The employer fixes the order of departures on leave, possibly after consultation with the works advisory committee or staff representatives, taking into account the requirements of the necessity of the work and the position of the beneficiary of the leave in terms of family situation and seniority in work. The order of departures on leave must be posted in the company at least 15 days before its date of application.
    • New provision of paragraph 1 of article 92 of the labour code:
      • Hours lost as a result of collective work stoppage in an establishment or part of an establishment may be recovered within six months of the interruption of work. The hours thus recovered are paid at the normal rate.
      • The Labour Inspectorate is informed beforehand, by the head of the establishment, of collective work interruptions and the procedures for recovery. However, if work is interrupted by an unforeseen event, notice is given immediately.
      • The hours lost as a result of a strike or lockout cannot be recovered, unless the parties have agreed.
      • A document in French can be found here.
  • On 15 April, 2020, the official newspaper of the Tunisian Republic published a decree concerning the deduction of one working day for the benefit of the state budget. The decree specifies:
    • The cyclical contribution is determined by the amount of salary, wages or fees for a working day which will be deducted for the month of April 2020, in the form of withholding tax.
    • Employees and whose annual net income do not exceed 5,000 dinars without exceeding 2,000 dinars per year are excluded from this contribution.

The targeted containment plan

A press conference held on 29 April by Lobna Jeribi (Minister of Social Affairs) presented the main lines of the targeted containment strategy which will take effect on 4 May. (Source: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=806711823190244)

Companies will have to hire a ‘Covid referent’, disinfect their premises, ensure the transport of employees, respect the specifications for individual and public transport as well as the occupational health protocol.

Phase 1: 4 May until Eid El Fitr (24 May)
The first targeted containment phase will concern 50% of the public service, 50% of industry, 50% of the service sector, 50% of the building and public works sector, 50% of small trades and 100% of liberal professions.

For services and liberal professions: those which resume their activities from 4 May are financial services and business services for those who are unable to work remotely. Industrial companies will have to transport their employees and respect the health protocol. The same goes for construction companies.

Phase 2: 24 May until 4 June, 2020
In the second phase,  we will climb to 75% of the sectors mentioned, in addition to the resumption of certain sports, leisure and tourist cultural activities as well as prayers in mosques, in addition to restaurants, cafes, weekly markets.

Phase 3: June 4 until 14 June, 2020
100% resumption of activities. This also implies the resumption of cultural activities as well as prayers in mosques and other sectors which will be explained later.

The clothing and footwear trade, as well as mass merchandisers and hair salons, will resume on 11 May. Any other profession where it is not possible to respect social distancing will not resume for the moment. For the rest, the work will be every other day according to the national identity card number (CIN). One day for even numbers and the next day for odd numbers. The purpose of this measure is to minimise exposure to the virus while allowing as many professionals as possible to return to work. (Source: https://www.businessnews.com.tn/details-du-plan-du-confinement-cible,519,97981,3)

Note: this strategy will be re-evaluated in the coming weeks and according to the results observed on site. The measures do not affect people over 65 years of age, with immunodeficiency or chronic disease carriers, pregnant women and children under 15 years of age.

In the sectors where activity has partially or fully resumed, companies have to comply with several commitments:

  • Compliance with the health protection protocol: wearing masks, washing hands and physical distance (e.g. some industrial companies work in 4 shifts to avoid overcrowding in the workplace).
  • Appointment of a Covid-19 speaker who is responsible for ensuring that these measures are observed in every company.
  • Complete disinfection of the premises before resuming work.
  • Organisation of employee transportation in accordance with health security measures. (Source: https://tunesien.ahk.de/covid-19)

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?

  • The employers’ organisation in Tunisia (UTICA) states that private companies will continue to pay their workers during this outbreak (from 20 March to 4 April, 2020).
  • UTICA also provides all business operators with a digital complaints platform, through which CEO or company managers can submit complaints and/or questions. UTICA will transmit these requests to the relevant institutions in order to find solutions.
  • Set up of a multi-stakeholder governmental committee devoted to closely watching companies that have been the most impacted by Covid-19. It is composed of representatives from the Ministry of Finance and Ministry of Social Affairs, the Tunisian Central Bank, UTICA (employers’ organisation), 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?

  • The trade union (UGTT) has pledged 100,000 TND (32,240 dollars) towards a fund (called 1818) to combat the coronavirus and support workers who have lost income due to the virus. UGTT is calling on workers to donate one workday, and their pay will be directed to the special fund. The UGTT and various government agencies will oversee the fund. The federation plans to postpone all planned strikes.
  • The UGTT is demanding that the government continue with social protections during the crisis and guarantee the wages and rights of private sector workers and in hard-hit businesses, such as restaurants and tourism. (Source: https://www.solidaritycenter.org/covid-19-unions-mobilize-across-middle-east-n-africa)
  • Across Tunisia, union members have collected in-kind donations and held fundraisers to help equip hospitals with essential protective gear and medical equipment. And, with their unions and the UGTT, they have donated tens of thousands of dollars to local hospitals, especially to those in regions with few resources, such as Jandouba regional hospitals and Sidi Bouzid regional hospital.

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?


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