Outcome of postal workers’ protests paves way for wage increase

Members of the Romanian Post Trade Union Federation who staged several protests in order to bring company activities to a halt have had the first of their demands met. The National Romanian Post Office Company has been withdrawn from the list of government-monitored companies, thus paving the way for negotiations on wage increases and improved working conditions.

Background

Since 2001, the National Romanian Post Office Company (Compania Naţională Poşta Română, CN Poşta Română), a public corporation governed by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (Ministerul Comunicaţiilor şi Tehnologiei Informaţiei, MCTI), has been on the list of government-monitored economic operators, following an agreement signed by the Romanian government and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In effect, this agreement imposed restrictive wage policies and blocked any increase in the number of employees. This was done in an effort to prevent the company from generating any further losses.

The total headcount in CN Poşta Română is about 34,000 employees, of whom close to 30,000 workers are members of the Romanian Post Trade Union Federation (Federaţia Sindicatelor din Poşta Română, FSPR). FSPR is affiliated at sectoral level to the Post and Communications Trade Union Federation (Federaţia Sindicatelor din Poştă şi Comunicaţii, FSPC), which is part of the National Trade Union Bloc (Blocul Naţional Sindical, BNS), one of the national trade union confederations.

Reasons for protest

As early as November 2006, the FSPR announced its intention to organise several protests in an effort to secure a wage increase of at least 25%, and also to encourage improved working conditions.

According to trade union leaders, employees of the company currently receive an average gross wage of €210, compared with the national average wage of €345. The union leaders have highlighted the fact that the average wage in the postal sector was at least 10% higher than the national average up to 10 years ago. Union members maintain that close to 10,000 employees earn less than €130 a month.

The low wage level has led to an exodus of employees: in 2006, over 6,000 workers left CN Poşta Română. Out of these 6,000 workers, only 10% left through retirement. Since new employees could not be hired, the working conditions of the remaining workers took a turn for the worse as they were forced to cope with a constantly increasing workload. Union members complain of postal workers having to carry packages that exceed the maximum weight allowed (12 kg for women and 15 kg for men), so that they actually carry an additional 1,000 to 3,000 kg a year. They also maintain that post office clerks are considerably overworked, having to handle at least one ton of mail per day.

In addition to the difficulties related to the distribution of mail and packages, union members want the issue of overtime addressed. The total overtime in the sector is 40,000 hours a year; workers cannot be paid for this time because wages are frozen and compensation in the form of time off in lieu is not possible due to the personnel shortage caused by the hiring freeze.

Having presented their reasons for protesting, trade unions announced that workers would no longer carry more than the allowed weight for packages or work unpaid overtime, as both could have negative effects on their health. In addition, unions declared that they would start picketing county branches on 6 February 2007. They planned to cease carrying overweight packages and working unpaid overtime from 9 February.

They also mentioned the possibility of suspending work in post offices in mid February. This action was set to coincide with pension payments, affecting approximately 70% of over six million pensioners.

Furthermore, trade union members contend that keeping CN Poşta Română under government monitoring is no longer justified, as the company made a gross profit of approximately €15 million in 2006.

Outcome of protests

MCTI initially declared that the announced protests came at an untimely moment.

Following an official statement made jointly by the Prime Minister, Călin Popescu-Tăriceanu, along with the Minister of Labour, Social Solidarity and Family, Gheorghe Barbu, and the Minister of Public Finance, Sebastian Vlădescu, agreeing to cancel the prohibitive decision to keep CN Poşta Română on the list of monitored companies, the unions decided to suspend protest actions and not to proceed with planned work stoppages.

However, they declared that the protest actions would recommence unless a regulation transposing into practice this official statement comes into force, which eliminates the restrictions imposed on free pay negotiations and the hiring of new personnel. They also require that this regulation be published in the Official Gazette.

The FSPC informed its members that achieving higher wages and improved working conditions would remain top priorities for the organisation, which were to be stipulated shortly in the collective agreements, with collective bargaining proceedings set to start in April 2007.

, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy

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