Protest action by unions in education sector over breach of agreement

A breach of the agreement signed in the autumn of 2005 by the Romanian government and representative trade unions in the education sector has generated further reaction from trade unions and their members. Teachers boycotted the start of the new school year, a protest meeting was held in Bucharest and picketing was organised at the central government buildings. By October, no consensus had yet been reached despite the fact that one month had elapsed since the beginning of the new school year.

Agreement between government and unions

In response to a general strike of teaching and auxiliary staff in the education sector, negotiations with the government began on 7 November 2005 and lasted more than three weeks. The outcome was an agreement signed by the government and four representative trade unions organisations: the National Education Federation (Federatia Educatiei Nationale, FEN), the Federation of Free Trade Unions in Education (Federatia Sindicatelor Libere din Învatamânt, FSLI), the ‘Spiru Haret’ Federation (Federatia Sindicatelor din Învatamânt ‘Spiru Haret’, FSI Spiru Haret) and the Alma Mater National Trade Union Federation (Federatia Nationala Sindicala Alma Mater, Federatia Alma Mater) (RO0511101N).

According to the agreement signed on 28 November 2005, the government assumed the following responsibilities, namely to:

  • provide project financing for education in 2006 through additional financial resources of up to 1.1% of gross domestic product (GDP), and for capital expenditure exceeding the amount allocated in the 2006 budget forecast, thereby reaching a total of 5% of GDP;
  • grant a pay increase of 11.83% for 2006, in two steps: 5.5% as of 1 January 2006 and an additional 6% as of 1 September 2006. As salaries had already increased in the course of 2005, these two raises would suffice to reach the desired 11.83% increment, compared with the total wages received in 2005;
  • cover through administrative channels the pay losses incurred from October 2001 to October 2004 through wage miscalculations. The payment of outstanding amounts was set to begin in February 2006 and to continue in instalments over a maximum of 35 months. The pay increase was to be preferential, giving priority to teaching staff with at least 10 years of service;
  • reassess ministerial orders in relation to employment criteria jointly with the Ministry of Education and Research (Ministerul Educatiei si Cercetarii, MedC), the National Council for Accreditation of University Titles, Diplomas and Certificates (Consiliul National de Atestare a Titlurilor Didactice si Certificatelor Universitare, CNATDCU) and the National Rectors’ Council (Consiliul National al Rectorilor);
  • take the required steps to introduce legislative amendments related to the pay system in the education sector;
  • maintain the tenure procedure for posts in education;
  • draw up a wage system project for employees of state educational institutions by 15 April 2006, with prior consultation with trade unions in the education sector;

The provisions of the agreement were due to come into force on 1 January 2006, and the evaluation of results was scheduled for 1 June 2006.

Breach of agreement deadlines

Failure to meet the deadline of 15 April 2006 for the draft pay law for employees of state educational institutions triggered the first reaction from trade unions.

Later, on 10 May 2006, the Minister of Education, Mihail Hardau, released a brief monitoring report on how the various provisions of the agreement were being met. On 1 June 2006, dissatisfied with the content of the report, the four trade union confederations in the education sector, requested a meeting with the Prime Minister, Calin Popescu-Tariceanu, to assess compliance with the provisions of the agreement.

The meeting of the trade unions with the government team led by Prime Minister Popescu-Tariceanu on 14 June failed to produce any positive results. Soon afterwards, trade unions issued a press release threatening to impede the start of the 2006–2007 school year if their demands were not met.

As a result, the search for a consensus was passed on to inter-ministerial commissions (RO0607019I). On 20 July 2006, the government informed trade unions of its plan to increase teaching staff wages by 34% over the following four years, as well as of a project for a hierarchical system of wages for employees of state institutions.

Reaction of unions

Trade unions declared both of the government’s intentions unacceptable. On 30 August 2006, the trade unions in the education sector sent a letter to the President of Romania, Traian Basescu, accusing the government of failing to comply with its binding obligations. They also immediately announced a series of protest actions for September 2006, including:

  • boycotting the start of the school year on 15 September;
  • organising a protest meeting on the same date;
  • picketing government central offices, beginning on 18 September.

The protest meeting on 15 September brought together 7,000 teaching staff from across the country, and the start of the school year was postponed in many educational institutions until 18 September. Protest meetings were then held twice a week.

On 13 October, the government approved the budget forecast for 2007, which was to be subsequently submitted to parliament for approval. It does not however contain any significant changes in terms of wages for teaching staff or employees of state institutions in general.

Commentary

According to the intentions announced by trade unions, street protests were set to continue to keep pressure on the government, and actions may be stepped up if union demands remain unresolved.

Luminita Chivu, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy

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