Cargo handling workers in Constanta port on strike
On 18 August 2005, about 700 employees of stevedore Chimpex went on strike for an indefinite period of time, claiming a wage increase and higher redundancy pay. To persuade the company management to resume negotiations with the strikers, other trade unions intervened as did managers of others companies whose exports had been blocked by the strike.
In May 2005, about 700 employees of Chimpex company requested to resume bargaining, as the previous collective agreement expired. Negotiations lingered over several months with no results.
On Thursday, 18 August 2005, after having gone through all the formalities required by law, the employees called a general strike for an indefinite period of time, while making the following claims:
- a 5% wage increase, and
- higher redundancy pay in the case of collective lay-offs.
The leader of Chimpex workers’ trade union, Florin Coman, declared that employees demand EUR 3,500 redundancy pay for length of service less than five years, EUR 6,000 for length of service between 5-10 years and EUR 8,500 for employees with a length of service of more than 10 years.
For its part, the employer stated that, owing to financial difficulties, redundancy pay could be no higher than ROL 20 million (about EUR 570) per redundant employee.
Chimpex is practically the only chemical products stevedore in Constanta, Romania’s major port. At the end of 2004, the company’s majority share package (74.5%) was taken over by Transworld Fertilisers Holding (TFH). The same employers own Azomureş, which is currently undergoing a process of reorganisation as a result of losses made the previous year, risking a production block. Among other things, this seems to be precisely one of the reasons of major financial difficulties encountered by Chimpex, since a large share of the handled goods were Azomures exports. Nonetheless, according to the latest available financial data, in the first quarter of 2005 Chimpex reported a 42% higher turnover as compared to the same period of the previous year and a profit of EUR 163,000, while the year before it had made losses.
The National Trade Union Bloc (Blocul Naţional Sindical, BNS), one of the five nationally representative trade union confederations in Romania RO0307101F, issued a statement declaring its solidarity with Chimpex employees. BNS considers their claims to be righteous, particularly since all Romanian employees identify recently rising utility prices with a decrease in living standards.
On 22 August 2005, another 4,000 port employees stage a two-hour strike in support of their fellow workers. Between 07.00-09.00, work was suspended in seven of the 10 stevedores operating in the port of Constanţa.
The President of the National Federation of Port Trade Unions (Federaţia Naţională a Sindicatelor Portuare, FNSP), Petre Costel, declared it was the first time in 15 years that trade union events had reached such magnitude in the port of Constanţa. At the same time, he accused the management of Chimpex of refusing to negotiate with the strikers and pointed out that in the absence of dialogue the conflict ran the risk of extending to all the ports in the country.
FNSP leaders asked the Ministry of Economy and Commerce (Ministerul Economiei şi Comerţului, MEC), and the Authority for State Assets Recovery (Autoritatea pentru Valorificarea Activelor Statului, AVAS), to annul the company’s privatisation contract, on the grounds that the current employers had failed to make the investments assumed in the respective contract.
Trade union Alternativa 2000 representing Azomureş employees, also declared its solidarity with the strike launched in Constanta. Furthermore, managers of other companies in the chemical industry took position against the refusal of Chimpex management to open dialogue with its employees and accused TFH employers of deliberately blocking the export activities of the other producers of chemical fertilizers and chemical products in the country.
TFH contested the legality of the strike. On 27 August however, one week into the strike, Constanta Tribunal rejected the contestation by declaring the strike legal.
Despite the growing magnitude of the protests, no meeting has so far taken place between the trade union and the company management. The strike continues, with no signs of any concrete action being taken to defuse the tension.
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