By M. A. Diallo
The National Union of Workers of Mali (UNTM) launched a nationwide strike on Monday, December 14, 2020 and will continue until Friday, December 18. Already weakened by Covid-19 and the political crisis which resulted in a coup d’état and transitional government, this strike has had disproportionate consequences on the economy of the country. A recent estimate from the Barometer puts the daily loss to Mali at more than five billion CFA (USD $9.3 million) per day.
None of UNTM’s nine demands were included in the final agreement with the government during a negotiation period following a three-day strike in November. As a result, the most important trade union center called a five-day strike on Monday, December 14. The country is paralyzed all week, with hospitals, banks, and state services such as taxes and customs affected by this work stoppage.
According to the Barometer (a monitoring tool set up by Mali’s young business leaders), this strike will cause the Malian economy to lose more than 30 billion FCFA. “Since the first three-day strike (November 18, 19 and 20), we have approached the state tax and customs services to measure the impact of the strike. They informed us that each day of strike causes a loss of five to 10 billion FCFA. On the basis of five billion, this second strike will cause the state coffers to lose 25 billion CFA francs,” said Cheick Oumar Soumano, coordinator of the Barometer of Mali.
Threat to economic growth
This strike comes at a time when Mali’s economic outlook has been revised downward by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In January growth was estimated at 5 percent, but by April it was estimated at -1 percent, due to coronavirus disease.
“The Covid-19 shock is hitting the economy hard at a time when the country is already facing a difficult social and security situation. The economic outlook has deteriorated significantly, and growth is expected to slow to below 1 percent, which will increase the already high rates of unemployment and poverty,” the IMF said in a statement on April 30, 2020.
According to Dr. Etienne Fakaba Sissoko, economist, researcher and university professor, the country’s economic growth for 2020 was revised to 0.9% before the August 18 coup and the subsequent ECOWAS embargo from August 20 to October 6. The government must find a solution to the UNTM strike, which effects the state’s food services as well as financial institutions such as banks, Sissoko warned.
“We have less external financing because of the security crisis. Projects for the northern and even central regions are at a standstill. This is a loss for the economy. In addition, the health crisis is slowing down economic activity. In the long term, the UNTM strike could cause an economic recession because it creates uncertainty in the market and psychosis in companies, and it considerably reduces the number of goods and services on the market when there are no new goods and services coming in. It’s going to create scarcity, which leads to price increases and could be a source of inflation,” said Dr. Sissoko.
Despite the new IMF estimates, the government of Mali maintains economic growth for 2020 will be 0.44 percent, and adopted of the draft Finance Act 2021 by the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, December 16. “The budget revenue forecasts amount to 2155 billion 161 million F CFA against 2145 billion 627 million F CFA in the amending law 2020, an increase of 9 billion 535 million F CFA, corresponding to a growth rate of 0.44%, attributable to the projected increase in revenue from the general budget,” the Council of Ministers said in a press release.
The trade union center’s grievances center around bonuses and allowances for civil servants, the revision of the index grid, the integration of community teachers into the civil service, the revival of railway activities, and more. At a press conference last Friday, Yacouba Katilé, secretary general of the UNTM denounced “the bad faith of the government” in limiting the strike. “We don’t want to strike, but the government pushes us to do it. When we filed our strike notice, the government took its time before opening negotiations. It was only three days before the strike that negotiations began. Whereas negotiations usually take up to 10 days,” Kalité said.
The Minister of Public Service defended the government’s actions, arguing that the delay in opening negotiations is a big deal. “What is important is the quality of the response,” replied Harouna Toureh on national television on December 12.
For Minister Toureh, the State does not have the means to address the UNTM’s grievances. “If the government commits [to the UNTM demands], it could honor this commitment and would compromise the future of other sectors, the education sector, the health sector, the defense sector, because what the UNTM has is more than what the state has. We’ve been truthful with the UNTM, and we have the proof to back it up. The premiums and indemnities are not possible now. On the other hand, we’ve proposed an increase in the wage index for all in July 2021. The UNTM is asking to bring it back to January. This is also impossible,” said Minister Toureh.
Despite the ongoing strike, the UNTM maintained dialogue with the government until the President of the Transition, Ba N’Daw, disparaged the UNTM during a speech to the Malian community living in Côte d’Ivoire on December 14. “Mali is going through many difficulties, despite everything, people decide to go on strike. How is this justified? You have to be unconscious to go on strike during this period. We will not give in,” Ba N’Daw said.
The UNTM immediately left the negotiating table. “Following the threatening and contemptuous remarks made by the president of the transition against trade unionists exercising their right to strike, the executive board of the UNTM, while vehemently condemning the lack of respect and consideration, has decided to break off all negotiations with the government of Mali until further notice,” Yacouba Katilé said in a statement on December 15.
In addition to the points mentioned above, the UNTM demands the revival of the railroad, the payment of the rights of laid off workers and those leaving voluntarily for retirement. The workers also demanded the revision of the law creating the Office of the Fight against Illicit Enrichment.