ILO upholds trade union claim that right to strike is curtailed
The National Trade Union Confederation Cartel Alfa lodged a complaint with the International Labour Organization (ILO) about the systematic infringement by the Romanian government of the right to strike, facilitated by legal flaws and failings. The trade union claims resulted in a decision of the ILO Commission on Norms, whereby the government is obliged to amend the Law on work conflicts by September 2007.
Current regulations on right to strike
In Romania, the right to strike is regulated by Law No. 168/1999, of which six sections include provisions on conflicts of interest, occurrence, settling, conciliation, mediation and arbitration, and strike action. With some amendments, the regulations have been in force since 1 January 2000. As early as 1957, Romania ratified Convention No. 87 of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise.
Since it came into effect, the Romanian law on the right to strike has given rise to misunderstandings and differing interpretations on the part of employer organisations and trade unions.
Conflicts of interests
Essentially, a conflict of interests occurs based on the text in Article 12 of Law No. 168/1999 when employers refuse to initiate the collective bargaining process when no collective agreement exists or when the previous agreement has expired. Collective agreements may be concluded and as a rule they are agreed for a period extending over several years.
In accordance with a section of Article 12, a conflict may also occur when employers fail to observe the deadline for mandatory annual bargaining on wages, working time, the work schedule and working conditions. Another article (No. 13), stipulates that ‘throughout the period of validity of a collective agreement, employees will not initiate conflicts of interests’. In compliance with the law, the first step that trade unions must take with a view to settling such a conflict is to notify the Ministry of Labour, Family and Equal Opportunities (Ministerul Muncii, Familiei şi Egalităţii de Şanse, MMFES), through its local directorates, announcing the intention to call a strike.
If the conflict settlement fails, the parties may agree by consensus the initiation of the mediation procedure. If the claims are still not accepted and resolved, the parties may agree by consensus to submit the case for arbitration.
Power to suspend strikes
With regard to strikes, which are regulated in Section 6 of the law, there are two legal provisions that ‘company management may resort to in order to suspend a strike for a period of no more than 30 days from the date it began or continued, if it in any way threatens people’s lives or health’. The request for suspension is filed with the Court of Appeal and court rulings are final and irrevocable.
Finally, another article (No. 62), stipulates that in case a strike extends over a period of 20 days, with the parties involved failing to reach an agreement, and ‘the continuation of the strike is likely to affect interests of a humanitarian nature’, the company management may set the case before an arbitration commission, by submitting the request to the bodies involved in the settlement.
Positions of trade unions
In the first half of 2006, the National Trade Union Confederation Cartel Alfa (Confederaţia Naţională Sindicală Cartel Alfa, Cartel Alfa) lodged a complaint with the ILO against the government of Romania (Guvernul României), claiming the infringement of the right to strike and the provisions of ILO Convention No. 87.
Trade unions consider that, owing to the confusing wording in the law, employers fail to observe their legal obligation to initiate the annual collective bargaining related to wages, working time, the work schedule and working conditions. The unions particularly refer to the interpretation of this obligation in relation to collective agreements extending over several years, and the fact that some employers refuse to renegotiate some employee rights on an annual basis.
As the local directorates of MMFES have at times declined to register the settlement requests formulated by trade unions, following the refusal of employer organisations to initiate the annual bargaining process, trade unions could not call a strike in the absence of the conflict resolution stage. Such action would in this case have been considered illegal. In the opinion of trade unions, MMFES thus imposes restrictions on the right to strike.
Furthermore, Articles 55 and 56 of the law stipulate that employer organisations may claim before the court the suspension of a strike if it represents ‘a threat to the life or health of an individual’. The absence of clear provisions for such cases may lead courts of law to make subjective, irrevocable decisions.
After approximately one year, the ILO Commission on Norms discussed the complaint lodged by Cartel Alfa and sustained by the Confederation of Democratic Trade Unions in Romania (Confederaţia Sindicatelor Democratice din România, CSDR). The following conclusions were drawn:
- the government will amend the Law on collective work conflicts by September 2007;
- the government is required to specify whether the dissociation between the conflicts of interests and the conflicts of rights does not encumber the right to strike;
- a mission of ILO experts will inspect the manner in which labour legislation is observed;
- the government will be monitored over the following three years and will be required to observe its agreements with social partners.
Finally, the government was required to present a detailed report of strikes suspended on humanitarian grounds.
Luminiţa Chivu, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy