Public sector union calls for general strike over pay demands

In February 2008, the two main trade union organisations in the Romanian public administration sector, FNSA and Alianţa SED LEX, held token and warning strikes in support of demands for major pay rises. With the government making no concessions on the wage demands, FNSA has taken the first steps towards calling a sector-wide general strike in April.

Trade unions claims

On 4 October 2007, the National Trade Unions Federation of Civil Servants (Federaţia Naţională a Sindicatelor din Administraţie, FNSA), sent to the government a reminder of a set of demands it had first made in mid-August. FNSA is one of the two nationwide trade union structures in the public administration sector, claiming a membership of some 35,000, and IS affiliated to the National Trade Unions Confederation Cartel Alfa (Confederaţia Naţională Sindicală Cartel Alfa, CNS Cartel Alfa). In brief, the trade unions’ main demands include the following:

  • Enactment, with immediate effect, of the draft law on the uniform pay scale for public servants, as negotiated by the social partners (the Salary Act);
  • Negotiation of the value of a ’salary point’, as defined in the draft Salary Act, before the state budget law for 2008 is passed, so that pay growth will be at least 30% in 2008;
  • Negotiation and approval, as a matter of urgency, of the Salary Act for non-public servant ‘contractual employees’, prior to the approval of the 2008 budget law;
  • An end to alleged government interference in public administration problems.

On 14 January 2008, the FNSA notified the government that the latter’s failure to meet any of its demands constituted, according to law, the starting point of a ‘conflict of interests’, and demanded that negotiation procedures be held by 31 January 2008. Failing this, FNSA would stage protest actions across the entire public administration sector. In Romanian law, a ‘conflict of interests’ is a collective dispute over pay and conditions that arises in the context of negotiations over a collective agreement.

Government’s reaction

The National Agency for Public Servants (Agenţia Naţională a Funcţionarilor Publici, ANFP), an arm of the Ministry of the Interior and Administrative Reform (Ministerul Internelor şi Reformei Administrative, MIRA), responded, on 21 January 2008, that the draft Salary Act had been forwarded to MIRA at the end of August 2007 and that, subsequently, several meetings had been held between MIRA, the Ministry of Economy and Finance (Ministerul Economiei şi Finanţelor, MEF), and ANFP. With regard to the urgent adoption of this piece of legislation, ANFP expressed its full readiness to take part in meetings with MIRA and FNSA, and stated that it had requested MIRA to mobilise all interested parties in collective bargaining over the trade unions’ claims.

On 24 January 2008, the Ministry of Labour, Family and Equal Opportunities (Ministerul Muncii, Familiei şi Egalităţii de Şanse, MMFES) responded to FNSA’s claim that there was conflict of interests. It argued that, according to law, ‘employee claims for the settlement of which the enactment of a piece of legislation or other regulatory act is required may not be treated as the source of a conflict of interests …, therefore the case does not meet the conditions to be viewed as a conflict of interests.’

Sector-wide strike in prospect

On 25 January 2008, FNSA sent to MMFES its legal arguments for the existence of a conflict of interests, stating that, according to law, such a situation occurs whenever ‘the employer disregards the claims of the employees’, and arguing that in this case the employees’ claims had been ignored for more than three months. The FNSA gave MMFES six days (until 31 January) to prepare negotiations.

On 29 January, a meeting was held at the offices of the MMFES with representatives of the Budgetary Sector National Trade Unions Alliance SED LEX (Alianţa Naţională a Sindicatelor Bugetarilor SED LEX, Alianţa SED LEX), the other national trade union federation in the public administration sector (RO0504104F), to which FNSA was not invited.

SED LEX Alliance demanded a 20% salary increase with effect from January 2008, while the government offered a 4.5% rise for the public administration sector (below the 2007 average annual inflation rate), effective from April, and another 5% effective from October.

After this meeting, on 6 February 2008 FNSA announced its schedule of protests: a ‘token’ strike on 25 February; a two-hour warning strike on 28 February; and a general strike scheduled for 11 April, with workers being asked to indicate their willingness to participate in this sector-wide stoppage. FNSA also made public its intention to sue the government over some of its demands.

Meanwhile, after its negotiations with the government reached a deadlock, SED LEX called a token strike on 18 February.

Commentary

Although 2008 is an election year, the government has so far withstood the pressure of concerted demands for higher public administration salaries, its main concern seeming to be 2007’s failure to stay within the inflation target and the protection and sustainability of the public finances.

It appears, however, that the tension over pay claims in the public sector may have knock-on effects in other sectors, which could lead the way towards a general strike with the support of the largest national trade union confederations.

Luminita Chivu, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy

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