Pay disputes in education sector

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Three trade union federations representing workers in the Romanian education system started protest actions in April 2004. Their main demands are for increases in salaries and a narrowing in pay differentials between different categories of staff.

At a press conference on 27 March 2004, the president of the National Trade Union Federation Alma Mater (Federaţia Naţională Sindicală Alma Mater) announced that after the easter holidays university employees would hold protests that could culminate in a general strike across the sector, unless an agreement is reached on pay increases for all employees in the university education system. The university staff's main discontent derives from the application of Law no. 315/2003, which has led to an increase in the ratio between the salary of a university professor and the salary of an assistant from 4.2 to 1 to 8.4 to 1.

According to a poll conducted by the trade union, approximately 93% of its 8,700 members are in favour of strike action. The federation has so far decided to organise weekly strike pickets at the premises of the Chamber of Deputies and Senate (the two chambers of parliament) and of the governing Social Democrat Party (Partidul Social Democrat, PSD). The protests began on 16 April.

Union representatives have held discussions with the Ministry of Education, Research and Youth (Ministerul Educaţiei, Cercetării şi Tineretului, MECT) and the president of the Senate's education commission, and have been promised that their claims will be endorsed. The Minister of MECT has stated that a bill on a new wages system for educational staff has already been submitted for approval, with only the Ministry of Public Finance (Ministerul Finanţelor Publice, MFP) not yet having endorsed it. However, the protests have continued and spread from Bucharest to the other university centres in the country (Cluj, Timişoara, Iaşi, Galaţi and Baia Mare).

Following the lead of higher education, teaching staff in the pre-university educational system have also begun protests, threatening to disrupt the school year unless the authorities take measures to increase their salaries. The Federation of Free Trade Unions in the Education Sector (Federaţia Sindicatelor Libere din Învăţământ, FSLI) has stated that a planned increase of only 5% in teachers' salaries is insufficient. It argues that the public education budget is still marked by austerity, despite the fact that pay in other sectors funded from the state budget has been raised by means of special laws, and this fact has increased pay discrepancies between teaching staff and other public employees.

FSLI wants the relevant legislation to be modified so that the current basic amount (EUR 41 per month) used for calculating the pay levels of teaching staff should be increased to the national minimum wage (EUR 69 per month). FSLI has announced that a warning strike will be held on 26 May, between 11.00 and 13.00, followed by a protest marc ,on 2 June. If its demands are not met, the union will resort to measures such as boycotting national tests and the school-leaving examinations, and finally to a general strike in teaching.

The members of the Spiru Haret Federation (Federaţia Spiru Haret), another representative trade union in the pre-university educational system, have also decided officially to initiate a 'conflict of interests' with MECT from 12 May. The union's proposed action will culminate with disruption of the school year if its demands are not met. These claims are similar to those of FSLI, but also include better pay conditions for staff working in positions of responsibility. If its demands are not met by 13 May, the Spiru Haret Federation will take action such as holding a protest meeting on 2 June, calling a warning strike, boycotting national examinations and ultimately holding a general strike. The union has already initiated a referendum, asking members to agree to these forms of protest.

On 3 May 2004, MECT met the leaders of the three representative union federations and promised that a draft government ordinance increasing wages in the educational system would be discussed by the government in the week of 3-9 May, and that the ordinance would be applied from May 2004.

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