TAHITI UNIONS STRIKE OVER TEMARU TAX PROPOSALS

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PAPEETE, Tahiti (Tahitipresse, Nov. 29) – An estimated 3,000 to 4,500 persons turned out Wednesday morning to begin a march and eventual sit-in in front of the French Polynesia Assembly to protest the Temaru government's proposed tax reforms.

Officials of a confederation representing 16 labor unions said they were satisfied with the turnout for an unlimited general strike march from a Papeete athletic field to the French Polynesia Assembly.

The union officials estimated the size of the marchers at 4,500, while the police estimate was 3,000. The turnout included many French State and territorial government civil servants, ranging from customs employees and teachers to salaried employees at the French State owned and operated RFO radio and television station, union officials said.

Declaring themselves "satisfied overall with the mobilization", union officials said the marchers also included salaried employees from big private businesses, all of whom are protesting the Temaru government's proposed tax reforms in its yet-to-be-approved 2006 budget.

The marchers plan to stage a sit-in in front of the Assembly building in the heart of downtown Papeete, hoping to meet with government officials. The 57-member Assembly is scheduled to begin debating the proposed 2006 government budget on Thursday.

The strike began at 12:01 am Wednesday after two hours of negotiations late Tuesday afternoon between the union confederation and the Temaru government broke down with no settlement.

French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru went on television Tuesday night to ask salaried employees to go to work Wednesday after negotiations to avoid an unlimited general strike broke down.

Union leaders, meanwhile, urged their members to show up at an athletic field at Papeete's city limits Wednesday morning for a march into the center of town to protest the Temaru government's proposed tax reform.

The key stumbling block in the negotiations appears to have been the failure of both sides to reach an agreement on the government's proposed increase in a solidarity tax on all incomes. The unions objected to any increase, claiming that it would be employees financing this reform rather than employers, who, according to the unions, would come out the big winners.

Temaru asked Tahiti's employees in his televised address to wait until January to see the results of his government's tax reform, which is included in a proposed government budget for 2006 still awaiting approval by the French Polynesia Assembly. Debate on the budget is scheduled to begin Thursday and continue daily, if necessary, to obtain approval before an imposed Dec. 13 deadline.

Negotiations between French Polynesia President Oscar Temaru and members of his government, employers and union officials began at 4 p.m. Tuesday in a last ditch attempt to avert a general strike scheduled to start on Wednesday at 12:01 a.m.

The strike is the first major test of the Temaru coalition government, which has been in power since March and faces a December 13 deadline for the Assembly to approve the government's first budget.

A confederation of 16 labor unions called for a general strike to protest the tax reforms included in the Temaru government's proposed 2006 budget. Negotiations with Temaru's vice president, Jacqui Drollet, and labor minister, Pierre Frébault, broke off Monday night with no settlement reached.

"There was no agreement," said union official Jean-Marie Yan Tu. "In the beginning we made some good progress, then there was a halt when the vice president asked us to make some proposals. We don't want to do that any more because each time he takes that as an agreement" rather than as a proposal to be negotiated.

Meanwhile, a televised debate on the proposed tax reform is scheduled for tonight (Tuesday) on the French State owned and operated station, RFO Télé Polynésie. Ronald Terorotua, another union official, said the Temaru government "wants to obtain more information rather than solve the problem".

As a result, Terorotua said, the union confederation does not plan to "give in" either on the government's proposed increase in a solidarity tax (CTS) on all incomes or on the unions' insistence that family allowances remain controlled by the Caisse de Prévoyance Sociale (CPS), the territory's social security and welfare system.

Labor Minister Frébault, meanwhile, told the government owned and operated TV station, Tahiti Nui Television, the tax reform proposal met with some difficulties during Monday's negotiations, particularly with the increase in the solidarity tax (CTS).

"Contrary to what occurred last year, this increase in salaries is not going to affect just those who earn (the minimum monthly wage of) 125,000 French Pacific francs (US$1,236), but all salaried employees," Frébault said. "Seniority is also going to apply... So that is going to go beyond the 6,000 French Pacific francs (US$59) increase" proposed for all salaried employees.

"The unions are saying, 'we would like to have the 6,000 French Pacific francs, but we don't want to pay the increase in the CST,'" Frébault said. "The situation is: if there's no increase in the CST, if there's no lowering of the contributions, we can no longer offer the 6,000 French Pacific francs" increase in salaries.

Looking ahead to the scheduled Tuesday afternoon negotiations, union leader Terorotua said, "I hope that with the president (Temaru) we can really advance some things, unless one wishes to see us in the street," he said of the threatened December 1 general strike.

Union leader Yan Tu said, "If the president agrees to suspend the project, there is a means of getting out of the crisis."

Meanwhile, the 57-member French Polynesia Assembly is preparing to open its budget debate Thursday, holding daily sessions until December 13, if required, said Antony Géros, president (speaker) of the Assembly.

The first order of business will be to examine six proposed tax reform measures.

December 1, 2005

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