Metro and bus traffic in the Tunisian capital ground to a halt after employees of the state transport company held a strike over delays in the payment of wages and bonuses.

The strike on Monday highlights the financial problems faced by public companies on the verge of bankruptcy, while the government of President Kais Saied suffers its worst financial crisis.

“The union is protesting against the delay in the payment of wages and bonuses,” said Hayat Chamtouri, a spokesperson for the company.

“The financial situation in the company is really difficult,” she added. The transport strike is a show of strength for the powerful UGTT union, which has pledged to hold a series of protests.

The union, which has one million members, has approved a two-day strike by air, land and sea transport workers on January 25 and 26

to protest against what it called “the government’s marginalisation of public companies”. The strike sparked anger among thousands of people struggling to find transport in the capital.

Tunisia is seeking a $1.9bn loan from the IMF in exchange for unpopular reforms, including spending cuts, the restructuring of public companies and reductions in energy and food subsidies.