Government seeks to relaunch social dialogue

In April 2005, in order to address tensions with the social partners, especially related to proposed amendments to the Labour Code, the Romanian Prime Minister held consultations with some trade unions and employers' organisations. Despite some consensus among the participants, the meeting angered those social partners that were not invited. Meanwhile, pay disputes have broken out in a number of sectors

In April 2005, four months after the new government led by the Justice and Truth Alliance (Alianţa Dreptate şi Adevăr, Alianţa DA) came to office ( RO0501103F), relations between the government and social partners showed signs of warming up, following differences generated initially by the former's attempts to amend the Labour Code (RO0502102F). A series of issues has arisen related to the public budget balance and deficit, following an amendment of the Fiscal Code and the introduction of a flat-rate income tax, which has resulted in a decrease in budget revenues. In the same context, the government is negotiating with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is requesting a budget deficit of less than 1% of gross domestic product and strict control of wages in state-owned companies.

Invitation to dialogue

To examine the issue of social dialogue in the context of Romania’s EU accession, Prime Minister Calin Popescu Tăriceanu convened consultations at Snagov on 9 April 2005. The talks were attended by representatives of the government, several nationally representative trade union and employers’ organisations, and some international institutions, including the head of the European Commission delegation to Bucharest. The Prime Minister stated that the initiative was meant to relaunch social dialogue and collaboration with social partners in order to address issues that Romania is confronted with in the process of European integration. 'I am aware that social dialogue has not been coherent so far. Hence a feeling of discontent and even mistrust … I am not happy with the situation either', he said.

The meeting was not convened for negotiations but for open discussions with the social partners on the current issues on the social agenda - ie reform of social dialogue, and fiscal and labour market reforms. Discussions on the first point revealed a perceived need to reform the Economic and Social Council (Consiliul Economic şi Social, CES), the main tripartite body in Romania (RO0401107F), to make it more efficient and representative. Participants also agreed to establish social dialogue bodies in each of Romania's eight regions (currently, tripartite bodies are present only in the 41 counties).

Subsequently, the government issued a decision to set up a Department for Social Dialogue (Departamentul pentru Dialog Social, DDS) reporting to the Prime Minister and acting as liaison between the government and social partners, which will also provide methodological coordination of the social dialogue commissions that are now fully functional in the various ministries. The head of the DDS will be appointed by a decision of the Prime Minister, according to whom this new structure is not intended to replace the CES but to increase its efficiency.

The government has also decided that the following ministries will be represented in the CES: the Ministry of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family (Ministerul Muncii, Solidarităţii Sociale şi Familiei, MMSSF); the Ministry of Public Finance (Ministerul Finanţelor Publice, MFP); the Ministry of Economy and Commerce (Ministerul Economiei şi Comerţului, MEC); the Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Rural Development (Ministerul Agriculturii, Pădurilor şi Dezvoltării Rurale, MAPDR); the Ministry of Education and Research (Ministerul Educaţiei şi Cercetării, MEdC), Ministry of Health (Ministerul Sănătăţii, MS); the Ministry of Justice (Ministerul Justiţiei, MJ); the Ministry of Administration and Interior (Ministerul Administraţiei şi Internelor, MAI); and the National Agency for Small and Medium Enterprises (Agenţia Naţională pentru Întreprinderi Mici şi Mijlocii şi Cooperaţie, ANIMMC).

As for the fiscal reform, the Prime Minister noted the 'dissatisfaction generated by the absence of in-depth consultation with social partners' on the recent Fiscal Code amendments.

In terms of the labour market, the social partners involved expressed their willingness to conclude negotiations related to the Labour Code by the end of the May 2005, so that the government may introduce the resulting amendments.

Reactions of social partners

The trade union leaders who took part in the meeting convened by the Prime Minister declared that they expect deeds not words from the government. Bogdan Hossu, president of Cartel Alfa confederation (RO0307101F), considers that the foundations for a positive relationship have been laid, although openness to dialogue has been a little late in coming. The leader of the National Trade Union Bloc (Blocul Naţional Sindical, BNS), Dumitru Costin, hopes to establish a framework for genuine social dialogue so that 'major decisions will no longer be made in haste'.

The National Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Romania 'Brotherhood' (Confederaţia Naţională a Sindicaletlor Libere din România Frăţia, CNSLR Frăţia), which was not invited to the meeting, reacted by declaring that the consultations served only to increase confusion over social dialogue issues. Marius Petcu, the leader of CNSLR Frăţia, declared that, together with the rest of trade union confederations, it had requested a meeting directly with the Prime Minister following the major social conflict generated by the amendments to the Labour Code, but 'the Prime Minister preferred to approach this major issue in an environment providing him with an edge over the trade union movement'. CNSLR Frăţia 'does not recognise the authority of the meeting held at Snagov and will change neither its strategy nor its calendar of protest actions as a result of discussions in this consultative forum. The trade union confederation is not willing to make any compromises concerning amendments to the Labour Code and is ready to continue protest actions on its own, should the other trade union confederations decide to abandon the efforts made so far under the common slogan: save the Labour Code!'

Subsequently, both Cartel Alfa, and BNS declared their intention to support protest actions, a general strike included, against 'unacceptable' amendments to the Labour Code.

Some employers’ organisations, for reasons that are not known, were also not invited to the Snagov meeting. These included the National Union of Romanian Employers (Uniunea Naţională a Patronatului Român, UNPR) (RO0310103F). The reaction of this nationally representative employers’ confederation was a press release stating that it would notify the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee of a lack of transparency in consultations with social partners displayed by the new Romanian government . Marian Petre Miluţ, the president of UNPR, announced a visit to Brussels, when he would take the opportunity to bring up the 'serious issues that law-abiding employers are faced with in Romania'.

Commentary

Only a few weeks after the meeting at Snagov and for the first time since taking office, the government found itself facing major industrial action. First came a strike among postal workers (RO0505101N), who refused to accept a 4% pay rise, as requested by IMF. Soon after, on 22 April, rail workers called a two-hour warning strike and are preparing a sector-wide general strike (RO0505102N). Employees in education (RO0503101N) and healthcare, whose protests seemed to have quietened down during recent months, are also expressing their dissatisfaction with the insignificant pay rise awarded to them for 2005. It seems that 2005 could prove to be a difficult year for the government. (Luminiţa Chivu, Institute of National Economy)

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