Civil servants’ trade unions reorganise and make demands
In March 2005, civil service trade unions in Romania established a new federation, Alianţa Sed Lex, as part of a lengthy process of reorganisation aimed at achieving a structure that fits closely with the public administration system. Simultaneously, the unions launched a labour dispute to promote claims related to civil servants' status, working hours and pay, and other specific issues.
In 2003, a new law on trade unions was passed (RO0401107F), acknowledging the right of civil servants to organise themselves in trade unions. Thereafter, several union organisations were set up, culminating in the emergence of a federation, the Civil Servants Trade Union of Romania (Uniunea Sindicatelor Funcţionarilor Publici din România, USFPR) (RO0407102F).
Reorganisation of civil servants’ unions
The initial forms of trade union organisation among civil servants made it difficult to proceed with collective bargaining and social dialogue with the government, acting as the employers’ representative, as these forms did not fit with the public administration's organisational structure. Seeking to increase the efficiency of social dialogue and consolidate their bargaining power, the civil servants' unions thus initiated a reorganisation of their structures. In March 2005, they announced the establishment of a new federation - the Federative Alliance of Civil Servants Trade Unions Sed Lex (Alianţa Federativă a Sindicatelor Funcţionarilor Publici Sed Lex, Alianţa Sed Lex), which has taken over the role of USFPR.
The new federation has an 80,000-strong membership (compared with the 62,000 members of USFPR), and involves the following affiliated trade union organisations:
- the National Federation of Trade Unions in the Finance Sector (Federaţia Naţională a Sindicatelor din Finanţe, FNSF);
- the National Federation of Trade Unions in the Local Public Administration (Federaţia Naţională a Sindicatelor din Administraţia Publică Locală, FNSAPL);
- the National Federation of Labour and Social Protection Trade Unions (Federaţia Naţională a Sindicatelor Muncii şi Protecţiei Sociale, FNSMPS);
- the National Federation of Civil Servants in the National Institute for Statistics (Federaţia Naţională a Funcţionarilor Publici din Institutul Naţional de Statistică, FNFPINS);
- the National Federation of Civil Servants in Agriculture (Federaţia Naţională a Funcţionarilor Publici din Agricultură, FNFPA); and
- the Trade Union Federation in Environment and Water Management (Federaţia Sindicatelor din Mediu şi Gospodărirea Apelor, FSMGA).
Four more trade unions are expected to join Alianţa Sed Lex:
- the National Trade Union of Civil Servants in Consumer Protection (Sindicatul Naţional al Funcţionarilor Publici din Protecţia Consumatorilor, SNFPPC);
- the National Trade Union of Civil Servants in Labour Inspection (Sindicatul Naţional al Funcţionarilor Publici din Inspecţia Muncii, SNFPIM);
- the National Trade Union of the Environmental Safeguard (Sindicatul Naţional al Gărzii de Mediu, SNGM); and
- the Unirea National Trade Union in Customs (Sindicatul Naţional Vamal Unirea, SNV Unirea).
Currently, Alianţa Sed Lex is organising its county-level subsidiaries at a brisk pace, and its officials are touring the country to reform local organisational structures.
As part of a far-reaching public administration reform programme, the new government elected in December 2004 plans to adopt several new civil service regulations, including a new job-evaluation methodology and a law on a single wage system for civil servants.
Modernising public services and enhancing the level of qualification of civil servants with a view to Romania’s accession to the European Union is another government priority. The objective of the National Institute for Administration (Institutului Naţional de Administraţie, INA), an institution in charge of vocational training for employees in the public administration, is to ensure that at least 40% of civil servants attain a certain minimum knowledge level by the end of 2005, so that all employees may obtain the 'European Computer Driving Licence' (ECDL) in as short a time as possible.
In March 2005, the government declared its intention to reduce the number of civil service employees by 4%, which means around 4,000 redundancies out of the 96,000 civil servants currently employed in Romania.
The government has also announced that it is examining the possibility of amending the legislation in force so that all managers of decentralised public administration departments would no longer fall into the category of civil servants, but into that of 'dignitaries'.
Trade union claims
On 17 March 2005, dissatisfied with the way negotiations with the government were proceeding, civil servants' unions took their dispute to court and declared that they were determined to resort to all the legal forms of protest and would go as far as to organise protest meetings or even call a general strike. Their claims include a wide range of specific issues, including the following.
Amending the status of civil servants
One immediate objective of the government is the amendment of Law no. 118/1999 on civil servants' status. Alianţa Sed Lex calls on the ruling government to refrain from making this amendment unilaterally, ie without prior consultation with its partners in social dialogue.
The unions do not agree with the position of the government on the following issues:
- the procedure for suspending civil servants from office;
- the right to collective bargaining - trade unions request the right to negotiate additional issues, wages included; and
- the procedure for career progression of civil servants. According to the unions, 'currently, no promotion is possible unless a colleague leaves the system or dies. Even employees who were secondary education graduates when they joined the system and subsequently graduated a form of higher education do not stand a chance for promotion unless a vacancy requiring higher education becomes available'.
Trade unions also request a more clear-cut definition of trade union membership rights in the case of higher-level civil servants (heads of offices and departments etc) and other measures for the prevention of discretionary political interference, going as far as forbidding party membership among civil servants.
Following Government Decision no. 1723/2004 on the application of a programme of measures combating bureaucracy in public administration, the working time of civil servants working directly with the public has undergone significant changes, by extending it to 19.00 three days a week and turning Saturday into a working day. According to trade unions, given current staff shortages, this decision leads to a non-observance of the statutory weekly working time, as stipulated by the Labour Code (RO0401107F). Furthermore, employees are entitled to time off in exchange for overtime but this involves an additional workload for the remaining staff. From experience to date, trade unions state that very few citizens use public services on Saturdays or after the 08.00-14.00 opening hours and the effect of the current regulations is actually contrary to that initially intended, in that it increases bureaucracy instead of diminishing it.
Civil servants agree with prolonging working hours until 19.00 once a week but, in order to improve the quality of services provided, they request adequate office equipment, in particular competitive information technology.
Thee unions request a change in the pay system for personnel employed on contracts, by doing away with minimum- and maximum-level salary 'grids' for the same job and replacing them with a fixed wage system.
For 2006, Alianţa Sed Lex targets a wage increase of 50%, which would result in a monthly net average wage of ROL 7,600,000 (about EUR 208), compared with the current ROL 5,100,000 (around EUR 140).
Other specific issues
In addition to the general claims mentioned above, the various categories of civil servants also have specific objectives.
FNSF is dissatisfied with the outcome of Law no. 554, passed on 2 December 2004 - the Administrative Litigation Law. It stipulates, among other provisions, that civil servants with control responsibilities may be taken to court and held liable for damages claimed by the state or economic agents. There have already been 1,000 such cases and employees are feeling increasingly threatened by civil or penal actions and a lack of adequate protection in this respect. FNSF also disapproves of job cuts and estimates a 7,000 staff deficit in finance alone.
For FNSAPL, a crucial issue is the pay system of contract-based employees (engaged in child protection, protection of people with special needs, people with AIDS etc) in local public administration, totalling around 34,000. The current regulations do not allow local budgets to allocate additional income for pay increases for these workers or to improve their difficult working conditions.
FNFPINS is dissatisfied with Ordinance no. 9 of 21 January 2005, which suspended several wage-related rights of employees in the National Institute for Statistics (Institutul Naţional de Statistică, INS), in particular the 'confidentiality and loyalty benefits' varying between 5%-20% of the total wage, depending on length of service. The benefits had been approved by the former government (RO0501103F) at the urging of Eurostat, which considered the wages of Romanian statistical staff embarrassing, at ROL 6,000,000 monthly gross (approximately EUR 170). FNFPINS is also dissatisfied with the results of a 2003 reappointment process (RO0407102F) as, in its opinion, many employees were erroneously appointed.
FNSMPS complains that the current information technology equipment available to its members is inadequate for carrying out the extremely painstaking pensions’ recalculation process. It also requests greater protection for Labour Inspection (Inspecţia Muncii, IM) employees.
In autumn 2004, civil servants had been intent on going all the way to a general strike, but this attempt was abandoned. Taking into account the fact that the process of trade union consolidation in the sector is not yet finalised, an agreement with the government seems likely, thus preventing an escalation of current protests into a major conflict. This time, the unions' main claim is related to the announced job cuts, which are motivated by the need to reduce the budget deficit to the level indicated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Alianţa Sed Lex declares that there is no question of a 4,000 'job surplus' in the civil service, but on the contrary of a 'job deficit' of approximately 19,000.
A further goal of the civil service unions, highlighted by the national press, is to ensure that a career in the civil service is no longer conditioned by the succession of ruling parties. (Diana Preda, Institute of National Economy)