Trade unions in mining sector threaten strike action

Although restructuring of the non-ferrous metal mining sector in northern Romania started well over 10 years ago, it continues to be a source of unrest among trade unions in the sector. This is related to collective redundancies and the ever-changing redundancy pay schemes in the mining sector. At present, miners do not know which mines will continue their activities and which mines are set to close.

Mining in northern Romania

The Maramureş region in the northwest of Romania is steeped in a tradition of centuries of mining, due to its rich non-ferrous ore resources of lead, zinc, copper, gold and silver. In the early 1990s, over 20,000 miners were employed in the mines of Maramureş. This number has since dwindled to around 3,500 miners.

Northern Romania has 10 mines in total, which are located in five counties. All of these mines are part of the National Mining Company Remin Baia Mare (Compania Naţională a Metalelor Preţioase şi Neferoase Remin Baia Mare, CN Remin). In fact, the city of Baia Mare in Maramureş county derives its name from mining and literally means ‘big mine’ (baia means mine). The company has two trade union bodies: the Association of Mining Trade Unions in Maramureş (Uniunea Sindicatelor Miniere Maramureş, USMM) and the Nordmin Mining Trade Unions’ Association (Uniunea Sindicatelor Miniere Nordmin).

Reasons for trade union unrest

In compliance with the agreement concluded between the Government of Romania (Guvernul României) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the state-owned company CN Remin has been on the list of monitored companies for several years; this has resulted in a stoppage of wage increases and of the hiring of personnel.

The Mining industry strategy for the period 2004–2010 (Strategia industriei miniere pentru perioada 2004–2010), approved by a government decision (RO0405102F), includes among other objectives subsidy cuts and the gradual reduction and eventual elimination of losses. In 2006, approximately 2,500 jobs were to be cut at CN Remin.

It had been agreed that redundant employees would be granted redundancy pay, monetary compensation and unemployment benefits. Redundancy pay amounted to RON 20,000 (about €6,000 as at 17 April 2007) per redundant worker, in compliance with the provisions of Government Emergency Ordinance No. 8/2003, which was to be annulled at the start of 2007 (RO0701049I). Moreover, as of January 2007, redundant employees were to receive significantly lower social protection quota.

Sensing the changes, and aware that the start of the collective redundancy process was being delayed, miners began holding protest meetings as early as October 2006, when they picketed the Prefecture in Baia Mare. Subsequent to this, 50 miners resorted to a voluntary protest underground in the Colbu mine.

In late 2006, trade union members, management representatives and the local authorities met on several occasions; however, no definite outcome ensued.

Government decision

Although the collective redundancy process was set to commence in December 2006, it could not be carried out within the proposed timeframe and under the conditions stipulated under Government Emergency Ordinance No. 8. This was in spite of the fact that many miners agreed to opt for voluntary redundancy in order to receive the redundancy pay of RON 20,000. Nevertheless, the county employment agency, responsible for the registration of redundant workers, found it impossible to complete the legal documents for 2,500 people in less than a month.

As the collective redundancy process failed to meet the provisions of Government Emergency Ordinance No. 8, this resulted in considerable confusion and discontent. This was compounded by the fact that some mining authorities disagreed with the provisions, considering that work in the mines could continue to yield profits by privatising and outsourcing some of the services relating to the closure of the mines and to environment protection.

On 31 January 2007, following trade union pressure and consultations between the government and four national trade union confederations, along with nine national employer organisations, a government decision was passed. In accordance with this decision, approximately 2,500 redundant workers from CN Remin are entitled to benefit from the provisions of the Government Emergency Ordinance No. 8/2003, which is technically no longer in force.

Commentary

Trade unions are still threatening to resort to strike action, as the approved company budget for 2007 does not allow for the start of conservation works on mining sites that have been shut down – a future source of work for some of the redundant workers. Moreover, the budget does not allow for the resumption of work in the mines that were not due for closure.

Such tensions highlight the need for the speeding up of social dialogue and for the practical enforcement of regulations related to the information and consultation of employees.

Luminita Chivu, Institute of National Economy

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