Why hotel workers in Tunisia staged a fake suicide
Issued on: Modified:
In a desperate attempt to make their voices heard, employees who say they have gone unpaid for six months threw a mannequin from the roof of the El Hana International Hotel in Tunis on December 3. It shocked passers-by below, who thought it was a real suicide. The man who threw the mannequin from the roof told the France 24 Observers he intended the protest to be shocking because it was the only way to raise awareness about the employees' situation.
Authorities cut off the hotel’s electricity in early November because it had outstanding bills. Since then, the hotel has been practically empty of guests, but employees have been gathering every day to call for six months of back pay, as well as the social security they say their employer owes.
The employees, represented by the General Union of Tunisian Workers (UGTT), have so far been unable to reach an agreement with the hotel's owner, businessman Raouf Mhenni, who is facing serious financial difficulties.
In videos of the incident posted on Facebook, passers-by can be heard screaming while others run into the building to try and help what they thought was a person who just landed on the roof of the first-floor reception building.
This video shows an employee picking up the mannequin that landed on the first floor of the building.
Hafid (not his real name) is the man who threw the mannequin from the roof. We’ve changed his name to protect his identity. He works for the El Hana Hotel and is the father of a young child.
"I am aware that I committed an illegal act”
I’ve been working in this hotel for years. Even with my experience, my salary is modest and amounts to less than 600 dinars per month [Editor’s note: 182 euros], without the benefit of any kind of social security coverage. For the past two months, the electricity in the hotel has been shut off because they failed to pay a bill of 120,000 dinars [Editor’s note: 35,000 euros].
We reached out to the governorate of Tunis as well as the president’s office, in vain.
The 116 hotel employees can’t provide for their families. For the past three days, I’ve been sleeping on a sofa at the hotel. I don’t want to go home without getting the money I need to feed my young child. I told myself that I needed to find some kind of powerful action so people would understand our frustration. I suggested the idea of throwing a mannequin off of the building to the trade unionists at the UGTT and they were immediately up for it.
I’m aware that this act isn’t legal, but I thought it could really provide the electric shock that would wake people up to our suffering.
The El Hana International Hotel, which is massively in debt and suffering from terrible management, nearly went bankrupt several times over the past few years. In 2016, the establishment was placed under the responsibility of a judicial administrator until January 2017.
The France 24 Observers team tried to contact owner Raouf Mhenni. We will update this page if he responds.
Video of the incident also fooled numerous people online. Tunisian Facebook users shared the post, saying it was a real person who threw himself from the building. “Emergency, an employee at the El Hana International Hotel killed himself,” wrote one social media user.