Court rules in favour of teachers’ minimum wage claims

Following legal action taken by a local branch of the Independent Trade Union in Education in the Dolj county in southwest Romania, the county’s court ruled that all educational establishments in Dolj must comply with the national collective agreement and pay trade union members holding a masters degree a gross minimum monthly wage of RON 880 (€233) as of 1 January 2007. The court’s decision sets a precedent that may trigger a chain reaction regarding salaries within the entire education sector.

Cause of dispute and court decision

The Dolj branch of the Independent Trade Union in Education (Uniunea Sindicatelor Independente din Învăţământ Dolj, USII Dolj) – affiliated to the Federation of Free Trade Unions in Education (Federaţia Sindicatelor Libere din Învăţământ, FSLI) which is one of the four representative trade union federations in the education sector (RO0610039I) – won the recent wage dispute with the Ministry of Education, Research and Youth (Ministerul Educaţiei, Cercetării şi Tineretului, MECT). The dispute came to an end on the basis of a final and binding decision given by the Dolj Court (Tribunalul Dolj) on the gross minimum monthly wage of teachers with a masters degree.

USII Dolj took the matter to court based on the relevant provisions of Article 40 of the National Collective Agreement for the period 2007–2010 (RO0702019I).

The trade unions claimed that the gross minimum monthly wage for 2007 of RON 761 (€201 as at 26 January 2008), set by MECT’s salary grid for probationary teachers holding a masters degree, was below the national gross minimum monthly wage of other masters graduates, and thus discriminatory.

The civil decision given by the Dolj Court in its public hearing on 22 June 2007 requires the educational establishments in the county in southwest Romania to pay teachers holding a masters degree a gross minimum monthly wage of RON 880 (€233) as of 1 January 2007. Moreover, the same decision stipulates that the schools should also pay these teachers the balance between moneys received during the period January to June 2007 along with the legal salary, increased in line with the rate of inflation.

Trade unions call for government ordinance

As the government did not react to the court ruling, on 15 October 2007, FSLI sent a letter to the Prime Minister, Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, requesting the government to legislate by way of a government emergency ordinance that:

  • with effect from 1 January 2007, the gross minimum monthly wage for all of the 45,000 teachers still in their probationary period, and holders of a masters degree, shall be RON 880 (€233);
  • all of these employees shall be paid the arrears deriving from the difference between actual and legal pay from 1 January to 1 October 2007, increased in line with the rate of inflation.

In the letter, FLSI argued that, if approved, the government ordinance would eliminate discrimination between teachers and employees of equal qualification in other sectors of the economy. The trade union also believed that the ordinance would put an end to the then already growing number of litigants all over the country taking legal action against MECT in an effort to secure the gross minimum monthly wage of RON 880 (€233).

The legal arguments put forward in the letter relate to:

  • the provisions of the Romanian Constitution regarding the ‘equality of all citizens before the law’;
  • Article 6 of the Romanian Labour Code which enshrines the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’;
  • Article 1 of Government Ordinance 137/2000 regarding the control and punishment of all forms of discrimination, which also establishes that workers are entitled to an ‘equal salary for equal work’.

Commentary

In the education sector, the main problems associated with the pay system are:

  • the level of the minimum wage which is lower than in other economic sectors;
  • significant wage discrepancies, according to FSLI leaders: apart from teachers with a first degree in teaching, which is the highest professional rank a teacher can reach, all of the other teaching staff without teacher training as their first degree but with a length of service of up to 10 years have been paid salaries below RON 880 (€233) in 2007.

Taking into account this situation, in November 2007, the Federation of National Education (Federaţia Educaţiei Naţionale, FEN), representative at sectoral level, called its members to take part in a warning strike, which ‘travelled’ for eight consecutive days throughout several counties, mobilising over 50,000 teaching staff. The strike eventually came to an end, mainly due to the approaching elections to the European Parliament, with the promise that the negotiations between the government and trade unions would be resumed in January 2008. All of the trade unions demand wage increases of 50% and threaten that, should the government fail to meet their demands, they will continue with protest action.

Luminiţa Chivu, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy

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