TUNISIA'S state phosphate firm CPG pays Abdel-Basset Klithi a salary of $280 a month, even though he spends most days in his favorite cafe in the southern town of Meilaoui

He is one of 21,000 people taken on by the Companies des Phosphates de Gafsa [CPG] since Tunisia's autocratic president Zine EI- Abedine Ben Ali was toppled in 2011.

Since then the economy has been in crisis and CPG has lost its spot as the country's top exporter.

Unemployment, inflation and deficits have shot up, and the value of the dinar currency has plummeted. Loans from the Internal Monetary Fund [IMF] have kept the government afloat.

CPG's hiring spree brought its total workforce, to about 30,000 and aimed to reduce the number of unemployed to stop protests destablising the transition to democracy.

Thousands more are still  jobless, however, and some block roads to CPG daily to demand work. Others on the payroll want pay rises and frequently go on strikes.

Phosphate production has halved since 2011 and CPG's losses have accumulated as the wage bill  grew. Employees point to other inefficiencies in the company.

CPG's declining fortunes have highlighted the government's failure to reform the bloated state companies that dominate the economy and have put Tunisia on the collision course with  international donors.

They have also deprived the government of crucial export revenues  needed to turn the economy around and create real jobs to end the daily protests and unrest, which largely target CPG.

''I get 850 dinars [$279.62] a month without doing any work,'' said former protester and CPG employee Abdul Baseet.

The company spends about $70 million a year of its  $180 million annual budget on salaries. Industry and Energy minister Slim Feriani said. His ministry oversees CPG.

''The hirings that took place after the revolution years were  aimed at buying social peace but increased the suffering of the company.'' he said.

''We are aware that they are not doing anything.''  [Agencies]


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