Controversy over restructuring plan for mining

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In early 2005, an announcement by Romania's new government of over 5,000 redundancies in the mining industry gave rise to numerous controversies with trade unions. The disagreements relate to the number of miners to be made redundant, the size of compensation payments and other social assistance policies.

In December 2004, shortly after being appointed, the minister of economy and commerce in Romania's mew government announced the imminent resolution of a delicate issue - 5,100 miners are to be made redundant in early 2005. This is to be done in accordance with a previously adopted strategy (RO0405102F), though some aspects related to the subsidy scheme for the mining sector will undergo changes in the context of new strategic thinking for the energy sector in general. To reach this goal, in addition to financing social measures from the state budget, a new loan agreement would be signed with the World Bank (WB).

In the first week of January 2004, miners’ leaders held a steering committee meeting in Baia Mare (a town in the heart of an important mining area) and requested the launch of talks with the Ministry of Economy and Commerce (Ministerul Economiei şi Comerţului, MEC) as soon as possible, in order to make an early start to work on the restructuring programme and the approval of income and expenses budgets for mining companies, which would otherwise run the risk of a financial freeze and moreover be unable to pay employees their wages.

In the following days, opinions expressed by both parties received repeated media coverage. Miners accused the government of being responsible for mining companies’ lack of wage funds and threatened to organise a general strike in the strike. The government stated that such a possibility is out of the question, though the new subsidy scheme for the mining industry is not yet finalised.

On 17 January 2005, a meeting was held between representatives of MEC and Meridian (one of the five nationally representative trade union confederations - RO0307101F), to which a great number of miners’ trade unions are affiliated. Over 2,000 of the miners threatened with redundancy are members of several Meridian affiliates. The meeting ended with a joint press conference, announcing that each miner would receive ROL 120 million (approximately EUR 3,200) in the form of compensatory payments. The miners’ claims were submitted to MEC, with a cooperation protocol to be signed shortly.

The next day, however, miners’ leaders in Valea Jiului (one of the major coalfields) expressed a different opinion. They requested higher compensatory payments, of up to ROL 160 million (approximately EUR 4,300). In addition to criticising the social programmes carried out so far in mining, they drew attention to the fact that a draft law has been submitted for parliamentary debate to extend from two to three years the monthly extra income for employees made redundant.

Also in Valea Jiului, 'a national conference for the protection of trade union rights' was organised for 5-6 February 2005. It came as a reaction to the fact that in December 2004, Ion Iliescu, at that time still the President of Romania, signed a presidential Decree that pardoned and released from further imprisonment Miron Cozma, a former miners’ leader. However, following a media 'scandal', only two days later the President annulled the decree. Under arrest since 1999, Mr Cozma is serving time in prison, together with other trade union leaders (RO0402102F). The conference was also due to be attended by representatives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and of trade unions from France and Germany.

On 28 January 2005, Romania signed a new loan agreement with the World Bank. The amounts destined for environmental, social and economic rehabilitation measures in mining areas runs to USD 120 million. Also at the end of January 2005, an International Monetary Fund (IMF) delegation initiated negotiations over a new agreement with Romania - which for once involves no credit line - and proposed raising the number of redundancies in the mining sector from 5,100 to 6,500. Although MEC representatives declared that they disagree with the proposal as it would require excessive budgetary funds to cover the compensatory payments involved, it did not take long for trade unions to react. Marin Condescu, president of the National Mining Central Office (Centrala Naţională Minieră, CNM) voiced his strong dissatisfaction at the news. He accused the government of not having negotiated with trade unions the redundancy of the 5,100 miners and threatened that the absence of negotiations might lead to serious social upheavals. However, talks between MEC and miners’ trade unions have not come to a halt and are expected to continue for quite a while longer.

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