Libya: Labour Day overshadowed by workers’ struggles

Libya

Published on Monday 6 May 2024 Back to articles

Libyans are boycotting chicken and eggs because of the sharp price rises

As Labour Day festivities unfolded, Libyan workers find themselves grappling with the harsh realities of the conflict-induced economic turmoil.

Abdul Salam al-Tamimi, who heads the Libyan Workers Union (LWU), painted a bleak picture, highlighting a myriad of challenges facing employees. Their plight — caused by delayed salary payments; the absence of health insurance; and the relentless surge in living costs — is stark. The lack of proper fiscal and monetary policies has exacerbated the situation with a staggering recent 30% spike in the prices of basic goods which is mainly because of the 27% exchange tax and the sharp fall in the value of the Dinar.

Workers are therefore voicing their frustration They are caught in a double bind: public sector employees face a squeeze on living standards; while private sector workers struggle with a lack of employee protections and rampant disregard for their rights.

Government ministries and state-owned companies often delay salary payments, and sometimes for years. Promised benefits such as bonuses, promotions, and even health insurance become distant dreams. This strain is not limited to peripheral sectors. Even the economically critical oil sector has seen workers not being paid for extended periods. According to Nermin al-Sharif, who heads the General Federation of Libyan Trade Unions, the sheer scale of the problem is staggering, with estimates suggesting over 2.3 million public sector workers are affected. The lack of timely payments and basic benefits undermines the morale and well-being of the public workforce and raises questions about the government’s commitment to its employees who are the very backbone of a functioning state. 

The private sector presents a different set of challenges. Here, the issue is not just delayed payments, but the near absence of worker protections. Companies often operate with weak regulations and limited oversight. Employees face harsh working conditions with little recourse when basic rights are violated. The lack of strong trade unions and clear legislation leaves private sector workers particularly vulnerable. This fosters a system of rampant exploitation creating a climate of fear and uncertainty.

The history of the trade unions, which date back to the 1950s, underscores its pivotal role in advocating for workers’ rights. Since 2011 they have been championing labour rights in the face of adversity. As Labour Day commemorations unfold, workers’ struggles serve as a poignant reminder of the ongoing battle for economic justice amidst a backdrop of conflict and uncertainty.

Nationwide boycott targets skyrocketing prices

Meanwhile, during the past two weeks, activists launched a social media campaign to boycott poultry and eggs with slogans such as: ‘Boycott chicken and eggs;’ ‘Boycott, you will not die;’ and ‘Please do not buy eggs.’

It began in Tripoli but then spread because of the ridiculous prices of staple foods with a carton of eggs jumping to LD22 (US$4.5) after previously not exceeding LD10.5 (US$2.20). The increased prices of poultry and eggs led a number of famous restaurants joining the boycott initiative to put pressure on retailers and the government to resolve the crisis. It appears to be bearing fruit with the price of eggs halving so it has now been extended to red meat and cement in an attempt to reduce the severity of inflated prices. Libyans are suffering from a decline in purchasing power with delayed salary payments and the imposition of the 27% tax on foreign exchange transactions. 

The Libyan Federation of Consumer Protection Associations’ (FCPA) vice-president, Ahmed al-Kurdi, said that the boycott campaigns are expanding to include red meat, after the price of domestic lamb reached LD80 (US$17) a kilo and a quintal (100 kgs) of cement rose to LD50 (US$10.40). According to the FCPA, cement prices have risen to unprecedented levels. All the factories are state-owned and a few merchants are monopolising the trade and then selling it at double the price. Al-Kurdi pointed out the lack of price monitoring by the Ministries of Economy and Industry has resulted in a monopoly and the absence of proper competition. The FCPA previously called on local factories to write the price on the commodity, to prevent manipulation by merchants and retail stores, and ensure that the profit margin is known to everyone. 

This excerpt is taken from our Libya Politics & Security weekly intelligence report. Click here to receive a free sample copy. Contact info@menas.co.uk for subscription details.

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