Agriculture unions launch protest actions
Trade unions in Romanian agriculture have initiated protest actions, dissatisfied with the support given by the government to the sector and the effect that full restitution of land to former (pre-commmunist regime) owners will have on jobs in agriculture. The protests started out in the form of picketing outside the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development in April 2005 and continued with a protest march in June 2005. If the government does not invite them to participate in dialogue, trade unions have threatened to block the main customs points in July.
On 16 March 2005, in a meeting at the Houses of Parliament, agri-food producers in Romania expressed their dissatisfaction for not having been consulted on the negotiations held with the European Commission on Chapter 7, Agriculture. On this occasion, the minister of agriculture, Gheoghe Flutur, declared that the priorities of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development (Ministerul Agriculturii, Pădurilor şi Dezvoltării Rurale, MAPDR), include a law package on land property and requested social partners to consult the package of laws and express their points of view. A priority objective of the aforementioned legislative proposals was the 'restitutio in integrum' of farmland to former owners, as the property owned before the establishment of the communist regime in Romania has not been entirely restored yet.
On 21 April 2005, trade unions in agriculture organised a protest picket outside MAPDR as a sign of disapproval of the proposed law package on land property. The action brought together over 30 agricultural organisations, principally demanding job stability.
Trade union members were afraid that all the land owned by the Agency of State Domains (Agenţia Domeniilor Statului, ADS), would be used to cover land restoration demands made by former owners. 'This land was however granted to companies with over 40,000 employees. These people will consequently find themselves jobless. Moreover, one issue which is yet to be clarified is the situation of land investments made so far', declared Ştefan Nicolae, president of the National Federation of Trade Unions in Agriculture, Food, Tobacco, Domains and Related Services (Federaţia Naţională a Sindicatelor din Agricultură Alimentaţie, Tutun, Domenii şi Servicii Conexe, AGROSTAR).
In addition to land-related issues, AGROSTAR demanded the opening of social dialogue with the government to increase support for agri-food producers.
As a rejoinder to the demands made by AGROSTAR, the minister of agriculture declared that the legislative proposals will be maintained since 'property rights are non-negotiable'. Furthermore, the measures will only affect a part of ADS lands, and jobs will not be cut.
Trade unions took the position expressed by the minister for a refusal to place the matter under public debate and accused MAPDR of lack of transparency. AGROSTAR announced that it would organise a meeting and a protest march in Bucharest in May 2005, bringing along farming equipment, and in July 2005 trade unions would use the equipment to block the main customs points, thus stopping all agri-foods imports.
Scheduled initially for 26 May, the protest march and meeting of AGROSTAR took place on 2 June 2005, with the participation of around 4,000 farmers, who brought along 40 farming equipment units. The march itinerary included the centre of the capital city of Bucharest, government buildings and MAPDR, where the demonstrators halted and handed in a list of 16 claims including among others:
- reduction of the value-added tax to 9% (compared to the current 19%,) on milk, meat, edible oil, eggs and bread,
- regulation of the agricultural loan for investments in agriculture,
- granting subsidies directly to producers, in line with EU norms,
- granting fiscal facilities to viable agricultural exploitations,
- increasing life annuities for people who renounce their claim on farmland,
- subsidising by 50% acquisitions of tractors, installations and equipment used in farming and livestock care,
- exemption from income tax and social security contributions for young graduates who find employment in agriculture,
- reduction by half of excise on gasoline,
- granting subsidies to producers in vineyards, orchards and vegetables,
- maintaining customs duties unchanged on meat and meat products until the end of 2006, etc.
The protest received the support of the National Trade Union Bloc (Blocul Naţional Sindical, BNS), one of the five nationally representative trade union confederations in Romania (RO0307101F) to which AGROSTAR is affiliated.
Trade unions declared that if the minister fails to open dialogue the protests would continue according to the announced calendar.
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