Teachers' protests continue despite resolution of local dispute

While the first protest movements staged last autumn were aimed at claiming the payment of overdue salaries for teachers in the County of Teleorman, they gradually won the backup of the three representative trade union federations of the preuniversity education in Romania, diversified their demands and extended to the entire sector. Internationally, the trade unions did obtain the formal support of the European Trade Union Committee for Education. At home, however, the long-time precarious funding of the educational sector is there to stay this year too, when the dialogue between the new Cabinet and the trade unions remains open but tense.

Context

In 2011, with a continued budget austerity in place, and also affected by changes brought along by the new National Education Act, the education sector of Romania has been shaken by various forms of protest actions undertaken by the teachers' trade unions all over the country, and particularly in front of the Bucharest headquarters of the Ministry of Education, Research, Youth and Sports (Ministerul Educaţiei, Cercetării, Tineretului şi Sportului, MECTS).

In the autumn of 2011, the Prefecture of the County of Teleorman (Prefectura Teleorman), which is the local extension of the Government of Romania (Guvernul României, GR), acting on a suspicion of possible irregularities in the administration of local budgets by some of the local councils in the county, froze their bank accounts.

The consequence was that the local administration could no longer pay the teachers' salaries or the cost of the central heating services, leaving students and teachers to do classes in chilly school buildings.

Local protests by teaching staff

Starting from the local authorities' failure to pay the salaries of some 500 teachers for three months in a row, 150 members of the Education Free Trade Union Turnu Magurele (Sindicatului Liber al Învăţământului Turnu Măgurele) picketed the Teleorman Prefecture on 14 November 2011.

The following day, more than 500 teachers in the county, all members of the Education Trade Union Federation Spiru Haret (Federaţia Sindicatelor din Învăţământ 'Spiru Haret', Federaţia Spiru Haret), supported by the National Trade Union Confederation Cartel Alfa (Confederaţia Naţională Sindicală Cartel Alfa, CNS Cartel Alfa), and by the National Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Romania Frăţia (Confederaţia Naţională a Sindicatelor Libere din România 'Frăţia', CNSLR Frăţia), met for a protest rally in Alexandria (the seat of the County of Teleorman).

At the rally, Tudor Spiridon, the leader of the Pre-university Free Trade Union Teleorman (Sindicatul Învăţământului Preuniversitar Teleorman, SIP Teleorman), told the protesters, inter alia, that the Minister of Education had refused the invitation to come to Alexandria to discuss with the teachers.

Subsequently, the Trade Union Federation Spiru Haret announced that the teachers of several schools in the county were going to stop work due to the non-payment of the salaries due to them for the three previous months, and to the lack of heating in schools, and requested the MECTS to take urgent action.

Prior to this, but also after the initial protests, the educational process was affected in various other counties.

Reactions of the trade union federations

The Free Trade Union Federation Spiru Haret received the support of the other two representative pre-university trade union federations, the Free Trade Union Federation from Education (Federaţia Sindicatelor Libere din Învăţământ, FSLI), and the Federation of National Education (Federaţia Educaţiei Naţionale, FEN), which communicated, through their web sites, the decision to picket for several days (during the period 15-25 November 2011) the headquarters of the MECTS.

The protests of the Teleorman teachers were the starting point of an updated list of claims related to issues that the Government had failed to address along the years, such as:

  • renounce its decision to defer the payment of salary rights won by teachers in court;
  • renounce the wage freeze for public sector employees in 2012;
  • lift the ban on appointments of teaching and non-teaching staff in education;
  • solve the shortage of space, and the oversized classes of children in pre-school education;
  • abide by the provisions of the National Education Act, and allocate the share of 6% of the gross domestic product to education;
  • resume social dialogue, and clear the educational system of all political interference;
  • solve the situation of education teaching staff in the Teleorman County who had not been paid for three months.

The list of claims was forwarded both to the prime minister and the minister of education.

Also then, the representative trade union federations in the pre-university education sent to the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE) and to the European Commissioners for Education, Employment and Social Affairs a 'Memorandum in Protest against the Status of the Educational System and of the Workers in the Preuniversity Education of Romania' ('Memoriu de protest privind starea sistemului de educaţie şi a angajaţilor din învăţământul preuniversitar din România').

Government's reactions

At the 25 November meeting of the Cabinet, devoted to the approval of the draft state budget for 2012, the conclusion was that, although the GR had supplemented the funds for the current maintenance of schools, the financial resources allocated to the sector were far from the GDP share demanded by unions and stipulated by the National Education Act.

At the beginning of December 2012, the Teleorman Prefecture unfroze the bank accounts of several local authorities, the schools received the requisite heating services, and the teachers received their outstanding salaries.

Although ETUCE issued a statement in support of all of the teachers' demands, the Government answered only the Teleorman teachers' claims.

Commentary

The three trade union federations, representative of pre-university education, continued their protests in December, demanding to meet with the minister of education, and pressing for the allocation of 6% of the gross domestic product to education, and for the removal of the restrictions on employment of staff in the schools where there was a sharp shortage of personnel.

The education union members are still dissatisfied with the Government's decision to phase out until 2016 the payment of the outstanding salary rights won by teachers in court.

With the disputed issues still unresolved to this date, the teachers' unions have made the same claims in an open letter sent in February, this time to the new prime minister and the new minister of education, who assumed duties after the resignation of Mr Emil Boc's cabinet in the same month.

Luminita Chivu, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy

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