Tunisia raises minimum wages, pensions to tackle discontent

People rally in Tunis during a nationwide strike against the government’s refusal to raise wages. (Reuters)
Updated 01 May 2019

Tunisia raises minimum wages, pensions to tackle discontent

  • Thousands protested on Monday in the central city of Sidi Bouzid against marginalization and deteriorating economic conditions
  • Tunisia has been hailed as the Arab Spring’s only democratic success story because protests toppled autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 without triggering violent upheaval

TUNIS: Tunisia raised the minimum wage for industrial and farm workers as well as pensions for hundreds of thousands of private-sector retirees by 6.5 percent on Wednesday in a move to defuse discontent over economic hardships.
Thousands protested on Monday in the central city of Sidi Bouzid against marginalization and deteriorating economic conditions. Hundreds of disgruntled young people also rallied in the northern city of Kef on Tuesday, demanding jobs.
A government statement said Prime Minister Youssef Chahed had approved a rise in the monthly minimum wage for industrial and agricultural workerss of 6.5 percent to 403 dinars ($133.93).
A 6.5 percent rise in pensions for 700,000 retirees in the private sector was also approved.
Hundreds of retirees demonstrated in front of parliament this week demanding higher pensions to counter rising inflation and and declining purchasing powers.
Chabad’s decision came in the face of pressure from Tunisia’s foreign creditors for a freeze in wages in the public sector, which includes some industrial workers, to reduce its large budget deficit.
The North African country has been hailed as the Arab Spring’s only democratic success story because protests toppled autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in 2011 without triggering violent upheaval, as happened in Libya, Egypt and Syria.
But since then, nine cabinets have failed to resolve Tunisia’s economic woes including high inflation and unemployment, and impatience over its slowness in carrying out reforms is rising among lenders such as the IMF.
The IMF has pushed Tunisia to freeze public-sector wages — the bill for which doubled to about 16 billion dinars ($5.5 billion) in 2018 from 7.6 billion in 2010 — to reduce them from about 15.5 percent of GDP now to 12.5 percent in 2020.
They also want Tunis to trim spending to help reduce its heavy budget deficit, though such steps risk adding fuel to public anger over joblessness and poverty.


Saudi NESCO to replace 74,000 streetlamps with LEDs in Riyadh

Updated 1 min 21 sec ago

Saudi NESCO to replace 74,000 streetlamps with LEDs in Riyadh

  • Replacing lights will cut power consumption by 70%

RIYADH: The National Energy Efficiency Services Company (NESCO) will replace 74,000 traditional “sodium” lamps with other smart systems (LED) lights, in 8 municipalities of the Riyadh region.

Agreements between NESCO, also known as Tarshid, and municipalities were signed on Wednesday, SPA reported.

The LEDs will reduce power consumption by more than 70 percent, avoiding more than 48,000 metric tons of carbon emissions, equivalent to planting 810,000 trees.

The agreements aim to set unified standards for street lighting at the international level, in accordance with the Saudi Standards, Metrology and Quality Organization (SASO).

Tarshid has completed 12 previous agreements with the region’s municipalities, and will soon sign 27 agreements to include the remaining 47 municipalities, CEO Walid bin Abdullah Al-Ghariri said.


Saudi Public Transport Authority launches 15 business centers across the Kingdom

Updated 31 min 28 sec ago

Saudi Public Transport Authority launches 15 business centers across the Kingdom

  • Cities served will include Riyadh, Jeddah, Makkah and Dammam

RIYADH: Saudi Public Transport Authority has launched business centers in 15 cities across the Kingdom, to provide licensing and customer support services.
The cities include Riyadh, Makkah, Madinah, Jeddah, Dammam and Al-Ahsa, as well as Qassim, Tabuk, Hail, Arar, Al-Jouf, Al-Baha, Asir, Najran and Jizan, SPA reported.
The Authority seeks to enhance the logistics sector in the Kingdom in line with Vision 2030 goals, said General Supervisor of Operations at the Public Transport Authority Fahad Albadah.
The business centers will allow clients to implement multiple services through the digital package provided by the Naql gateway, Albadah said.


Saudi inflation slows to 4.9% in March as VAT effect lingers

Updated 16 April 2021

Saudi inflation slows to 4.9% in March as VAT effect lingers

  • Saudi inflation jumped to 6.1% after VAT was increased last July
  • Food and beverages were the biggest contributors to inflation in March

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s annual inflation rate fell marginally in March as last July’s increase in value-added tax (VAT) continued to assert an effect on prices.

The consumer price index rose an annual 4.9 percent in March, compared with a 5.2 percent increase in February, the General Authority of Statistics (GASTAT) said in a statement on Thursday.

The inflation rate jumped to 6.1 percent in July 2020 from 0.5 percent in June as the VAT rate was increased from 5 percent to 15 percent and has mainly been drifting lower since.

The biggest contributors to March’s reading were food and beverage prices, which increased 10.2 percent from a year earlier, driven by a 12 percent increase in the cost of meat and 10.9 percent higher prices for vegetables, GASTAT said.

Transport costs rose 10.5% as vehicle prices rose 9.6%, while tobacco gained 13.1 percent and communication added 13.2 percent.

The cost of education fell 9.5 percent year over year, while housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels declined 2.7 percent, driven by a 3.9% drop in housing rentals.

Saudi Arabia’s acting information minister said in November last year the kingdom could review its VAT increase once the coronavirus pandemic ends. Analysts at Al Rajhi Capital predicted the higher VAT rate would generate SR28 billion ($7.5 billion) in 2020 and SR88 billion in 2021 if maintained.

In 2018, Saudi Arabia and the UAE became the first two countries in the Arabian Gulf to introduce VAT.


Amazon conciliatory as US eyes regulation

Updated 16 April 2021

Amazon conciliatory as US eyes regulation

  • Founder Jeff Bezos tells investors his e-commerce empire needs a better “vision” for its workers
  • Before stepping down as CEO, he laid out a new goal for the company to be “Earth’s best employer”

SAN FRANCISCO, USA: US tech giant Amazon on Thursday sounded conciliatory notes as the US government considers stricter regulatory measures against America’s largest digital platforms.
Founder Jeff Bezos told investors his e-commerce empire needs a better “vision” for its workers, just days after an effort to create the company’s first labor union was defeated.
Some Amazon executives had fired off snappy comments at various politicians who supported the labor campaign, but their chief executive took a more circumspect approach to the anti-union victory at its plant in Bessemer, Alabama.
“Does your chair take comfort in the outcome of the recent union vote in Bessemer?” Bezos asked rhetorically in an annual letter to shareholders.
“No, he doesn’t. I think we need to do a better job for our employees.”
In the letter, which was his final before stepping down as chief executive, Bezos laid out a new goal for the company to be “Earth’s best employer and Earth’s safest place to work.”
“Despite what we’ve accomplished, it’s clear to me that we need a better vision for our employees’ success,” Bezos said.
The vote count in the contentious unionization drive at the warehouse in the southern state of Alabama last week showed a wide majority of workers rejecting the move.
“Bezos’s admission today demonstrates that what we have been saying about workplace conditions is correct,” said Stuart Appelbaum, president of the union that vied to represent Amazon workers.

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. (AP/file photo)

“But his admission won’t change anything, workers need a union — not just another Amazon public relations effort in damage control.”
Bezos rejected news reports that he said unfairly portray Amazon workers as “desperate souls and treated as robots.”
“That’s not accurate,” Bezos said.
“They’re sophisticated and thoughtful people who have options for where to work.”
Unions and political leaders have argued that Amazon employees face constant pressure and monitoring, with little job protection, highlighting the need for collective bargaining.
Amazon has held firm that most of its workers don’t want or need a union and that the company already provides more than most other employers, with a minimum $15 hourly wage and other benefits.
Bezos had already shown deference to political momentum, announcing support for an increase in corporate taxes sought by US President Joe Biden to help finance a $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
Bezos embraced the move just days after Biden singled out Amazon for avoiding federal income taxes while proposing to boost the corporate tax rate to 28 percent.
“We support the Biden administration’s focus on making bold investments in American infrastructure,” Bezos said.
“We recognize this investment will require concessions from all sides — both on the specifics of what’s included as well as how it gets paid for (we’re supportive of a rise in the corporate tax rate).”
Amazon has been the target of critics for years who claim it pays little or no corporate taxes. The company has defended its policies, saying that its investments offset taxes as intended by the tax code.
Last month, Biden cited a 2019 study showing 91 Fortune 500 companies, “the biggest companies in the world, including Amazon... pay not a single, solitary penny of federal income tax,” adding, “that is just wrong.”
Bezos’s support for raising corporate taxes was echoed Thursday by the Chamber of Progress, a self-described “center-left” tech industry coalition whose roster of members includes Amazon, Facebook, Google and Twitter.
“Many tech industry leaders view corporate taxes as a patriotic duty and a wise investment in a well-functioning society,” chamber chief Adam Kovacevich said in message posted online.
“President Biden’s proposal to raise corporate tax rates to make major investments in infrastructure is a tradeoff that many in the tech industry can support.”
Meanwhile, political will to regulate Internet giants whose power has grown dramatically during the pandemic has seemed to increase.
US House Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline said Thursday that a 16-month investigation makes it clear that Congress must act.
“Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook each hold monopoly power over significant sectors of our economy,” Cicilline said in a statement.
“This monopoly moment must end.”

Related


Sanctioned Russian IT company partners with Microsoft, IBM

Updated 16 April 2021

Sanctioned Russian IT company partners with Microsoft, IBM

  • Positive Technologies' website boasts of a number of accomplishments, such as providing cybersecurity for the 2018 soccer World Cup hosted by Russia
  • The US said big conventions hosted by Positive Tech are “used as recruiting events” by the FSB and the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.

The US Treasury Department on Thursday slapped six Russian technology companies with sanctions for supporting Kremlin intelligence agencies engaged in “dangerous and disruptive cyberattacks.”
But only one of them stands out for its international footprint and partnerships with such IT heavyweights as Microsoft and IBM.
That company, Positive Technologies, claims more than 2,000 customers in 30 countries, including major European banks Societe Generale and ING, as well as Samsung, SK Telecom of South Korea and BT, the British telecommunications giant.
Its clients also include the FSB, a successor to the KGB that “cultivates and co-opts criminal hackers” who carry out ransomware and phishing attacks, the Treasury Department said. The US said big conventions hosted by Positive Technologies are “used as recruiting events” by the FSB and the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency.
GRU agents are the swashbucklers of Russian intelligence. The agency stands accused of spearheading the hack-and-leak operation that interfered in the 2016 US presidential election to favor Donald Trump. Its agents also conducted the most damaging cyberattack on record, the runaway 2017 NotPetya virus that did more than $10 billion in global damage, its victims including the shipping giant Maersk and pharmaceutical company Merck.
The CEO of the software industry-supported Internet Research Institute in Moscow, Karen Kazaryan, said he was not familiar with most of the Russian IT companies sanctioned on Thursday. But Positive Tech is well-known in the industry for its annual Hack Days conference, which is scheduled for May 20-21 at a Moscow hotel.
Former CIA analyst Michael van Landingham applauded the naming and sanctioning of Russian IT companies known to have aided and abetted malign government activity.
“Naming specific companies can create incentives for educated and skilled Russians who might be able to obtain jobs elsewhere where they don’t support Russian state hacking,” he said.
Positive Tech’s specialty is identifying vulnerabilities in popular software such as Microsoft’s Windows operating system. The world’s intelligence agencies regularly lean on companies like it not to disclose potent vulnerabilities publicly when they find them but to instead quietly share them for hacking adversaries’ networks.
The US did not accuse Positive Technologies of any such behavior and the Treasury Department declined to answer questions about the company’s activities beyond a press release.
Nor would a Microsoft spokesperson discuss the company’s business relationship with Positive Tech. On its website, Microsoft names the company as one of among more than 80 security software providers to which it gives early access to vulnerability information so they can make sure their customers get patches quickly. IBM also lists Positive Technologies as a security partner, offering customers one of its scanning tools.
IBM didn’t respond to requests for comment Thursday. Neither did other US tech companies HP and VMware, which Positive Technologies lists as technology partners.
On its website, Positive Technologies lists Russia’s Defense Ministry as among its first major clients, in 2004 when it was two years old with just 11 employees. It claimed more than 800 employees in 2018.
Russia’s biggest business database lists the company’s CEO and founder as Yury Maximov, about whom little is known other than he graduated from Moscow State University. The company did not respond to questions sent to press contacts on its website.
Positive Tech’s website boasts of a number of accomplishments, such as providing cybersecurity for the 2018 soccer World Cup hosted by Russia and publishing data that same year on 30 high-risk vulnerabilities. It said it opened its first international office in London in 2010 and its first US office in 2012.
The company has sometimes used Framingham, Massachusetts, as its US location in news releases, though it’s not recorded in city or state records as a business by that name. An office building with an address linked to the company is a co-working space that can be rented on flexible terms for “one person or more.”
Market research firm IDC listed Positive Technologies as one of the fastest-growing companies in security and vulnerability management in 2012, in part because it was so small at the time, growing nearly 82% year-over-year to $30 million in worldwide revenue. Nearly all that revenue came from assessing vulnerabilities. But by 2015, its worldwide revenues fell 37.6% to $26.5 million, according to IDC, which eventually stopped tracking the company.