Controversy over civil service pay and conditions

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During 2004, Romanian civil servants - who have been allowed to join a trade union only since 2003 - have been opposing government proposals for a new law on civil service pay and seeking changes to the statute governing their employment. In late June 2004, a protocol was signed by the two sides, stating that the dispute will be solved through dialogue within a month and that, for the first time, a national agreement will be concluded on civil service pay and conditions.

It was only in January 2003, with the adoption of a new Trade Unions Law (RO0401107F), that Romanian civil servants (except for higher-level ones) acquired their right to join trade unions. Since then, many trade unions have been set up, of which the Civil Servants Trade Union of Romania (Uniunea Sindicatelor Funcţionarilor Publici din România, USFPR) is the most important. According to its president, Vasile Marica, USFPR has some 62,000 members (around 60% of the 110,000 civil servants in Romania) and 98 affiliated organisations from various administrative bodies. USFPR has become a member of the National Trade Union Bloc (Blocul Naţional Sindical, BNS), one of the nationally representative trade union confederations ( RO0307101F), as well as of the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) and Public Services International (PSI).

Though established only one year previously, in February 2004 USFPR held its second national council meeting. In order to increase membership further, it was decided to set up a new organisation - the National Trade Union of Civil Servants (Sindicatului Naţional al Funcţionarilor Publici, SNFP), which civil servants from institutions where no specific trade union organisation has been established can join.

In the general context of ongoing public administration reform, the legal framework for civil service employment has been amended on many occasions, consolidating the role played by the following institutions:

  • the National Agency of Civil Servants (Agenţia Naţională a Funcţionarilor Publici, ANFP), established in 1999, is a management and regulatory body for public employment, which participates in the negotiations between the representative trade unions for civil servants and the Ministry of Public Administration and Interior (Ministerul Administraţiei şi Internelor, MAI); and
  • the National Institute for Administration (Institutul Naţional de Administraţie, INA), established in 2001, is a public governmental body responsible for the vocational and on-the-job training of public administration employees.

Moreover, an important step towards the expansion of social dialogue within the public administration has been taken with the establishment of 'parity commissions' (comisii paritare) and disciplinary commissions in every public institution, on which civil servants and the public authorities are equally represented.

Despite all the efforts made, the reform of public administration employment was criticised in the 2003 Regular Report on Romania's progress towards EU accession from the European Commission, which states that 'the remuneration is very low' and that 'the current salary system remains inconsistent, discretionary and lacking in transparency … As a result, there has been a high turnover of local civil servants.'

Main differences between civil servants and government

A dispute arose between civil service trade unions and the government in 2004, centring on different views on the wage system and the statute that governs civil servants' employment.

Wage system

In 2003, the government announced its intention to adopt a new law on the pay of public servants, in line with the general goals of its public administration reform. In February 2004, at the national council meeting held by USFPR trade union, its leaders stated that this new wage law was their first priority. The unions complain that the draft law would abolish a firm and transparent wage system and introduce a whole set of discretionary wage supplements (which could amount to more than 50% of the normal wage) which could be granted without any consultation with unions. They demand a predictable and fixed wage scale, which cannot be arbitrarily adjusted by the employer.

At present, the average monthly wage of public servants is of ROL 3.8 million-ROL 4 million (about EUR 85-EUR 100). Under the government's proposal, this would increase by 12% to around ROL 4.3 million (EUR 107.5 at current exchange rates) by the end of 2004 and then to around ROL 4.8 million (EUR 120) in 2005, ROL 5.3 million (EUR 132.5) in 2006 and ROL 5.8 million (EUR 145) in 2007.

USFPR demands a 50% initial increase in wages followed by an increase to ROL 12 million-ROL 13 million (EUR 290-EUR 315) in 2005, ROL 17 million-ROL 18 million (EUR 415-EUR 430) in 2006 and ROL 20 million-EUR 22 million (EUR 485-530) in 2007. The argument is that public servants are paid much less than the national average (by 40%). Moreover, since, under the civil servants statute, their position is incompatible with any involvement in other kinds of lucrative activity, they claim to be underprivileged.

Statute

The first statute governing the employment of civil servants was introduced by Law no. 188/1999. The many amendments adopted thereafter culminated in the reappointment of all civil servants during 2003. In USFPR's opinion, the process of reappointment allowed room for subjective judgments and thus the courts are currently handling numerous labour disputes over claims by civil servants that their careers have been distorted (RO0403103T).

The employees are dissatisfied with some of the provisions of the current statute and demand:

  • abolition of the ban on unionisation of higher civil servants; and
  • greater protection for several types of civil servants, especially for those involved in control activities.

The latter claim has partially been resolved by the recent introduction of a new Fiscal Code and Fiscal Procedure Code (RO0401107F).

Outcome of negotiations

On 27 April 2004, at the parliament building, the ANFP Agency chaired a conference on the topic of the civil service wage system and invited representatives of the Ministry of Public Finances (Ministerului Finanţelor Publice, MFP), the Ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family (Ministerul Muncii, Solidarităţii Sociale şi Familiei, MMSSF) and MAI, as well as European Commission experts. Since its representative did not have an opportunity to address the plenary session, USFPR made public its disapproval and submitted its viewpoint on the draft wage system for the civil servants in writing to both the government and the European Commission.

Over 20-30 May 2004, many rounds of discussion took place, to which trade unions were invited. Dissatisfied by the talks' outcome, on 15 June USFPR decided to start protests and even, if necessary, to organise a general strike. After new rounds of negotiations, on 25 June a first step was made towards dialogue, with a protocol signed by representatives of USFPR, MMSSF, MAI and ANFP. Thus, the protests have been suspended but the dispute is still open.

Unusually, under the protocol the parties have agreed to conclude, within 30 days, a first national agreement on employment relations between public authorities and institutions and civil servants.

Following its demands to the national authorities and a claim submitted to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), USFPR reportedly already has a promise from the government to amend the current legislation and allow higher civil servants to unionise.

Commentary

To ensure a professional, competent public administration, capable of functioning under similar conditions to those in the EU, it is expected that the current monthly wage of Romanian public servants (EUR 85-EUR 100) will rise significantly, by reducing the gap with the Romanian average wage (EUR 150-EUR 170 a month) and with the relevant wages in the 25 EU Member States, which, in 1999, averaged EUR 304 a month in Hungary, EUR 405 in Poland, EUR 343 in the Czech Republic, EUR 241 in Slovakia and EUR 866 in Slovenia, while the average for the then EU 15 countries exceeded EUR 3,600.

Fundamentally, trade unions are seeking to reduce the possibility that various political and other interests can affect, in a discretionary manner, the pay and working conditions of civil servants. They fear that, without clearer and better established rules, their pay and careers may be threatened by the changes the parliamentary elections might bring.

It is beyond doubt that, during recent years, the involvement of civil servants in social dialogue has increased considerably and this trend will not slow down. According to a strategy for accelerating the reform of the public administration issued on 17 June, in 2004 a Civil Service Observatory (Observatorului Funcţiei Publice, OFP) will be set up, as a multipartite body involving representatives of civil society, trade unions and political parties. (Luminiţa Chivu, Institute of National Economy)

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