New collective agreement for metro workers

Unions and management at Romanian transport company Metrorex have signed a new collective agreement. Unions had threatened strike action to support demands for a new agreement to replace the expired one and the ending of a five-year pay freeze with inflation-linked salary rises. Metrorex runs the underground service for Romanian capital Bucharest, which is used by 700,000 passengers a day. The company receives annual subsidies of €180 million to cover its revenue shortfall.

Background

Trade union members at Metrorex, the company that manages the underground train network in the Romanian capital Bucharest, have signed a new collective agreement. Unions had threatened an all-out strike if the company’s management failed to meet their demands.

They had called for the renewal of the expired collective agreement that ended in March 2013 and the ending of a five-year pay freeze with inflation-linked wage rises. The unions staged a two-hour warning strike on 17 September 2013, and held a protest march the following day. An all-out strike was called for 30 September 2103 and then rescheduled for 14 October 2103.

Management agreed to new rounds of collective bargaining talks and the strike was cancelled. On 17 October 2013, a collective agreement valid from October 2013 to October 2014 was signed. Metrorex management agreed to increase the salaries in line with the forecast inflation rate for 2014.

Reasons behind the strike

At the beginning of 2013, shortly before the expiry of the current collective agreement, members of the Underground Free Trade Unions (USLM) at transport firm Metrorex demanded a review of their salaries, frozen since 2008.

Wages were frozen after Metrorex was included on the list of state-owned companies subject to monitoring in accordance with the terms of the international bail-out negotiated with the Troika – the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), and the European Commission (EC).

Union members staged a protest rally in front of the buildings of the Ministry of Transport and the Romanian government. Fuel was added to the fire when the authorities aired the rumour that the running of Metrorex might be transferred from the Ministry of Transport to the City Hall of Bucharest (PMB). This raised the prospect of the loss of salary extras and benefits by workers at the company.

In July 2013, the Metrorex trade unions announced the beginning of industrial conflict and warned that this could escalate into an all-out strike. The industrial action was planned in concert with union members at Autonomous Transport Bucharest (RATB) which provides above-ground passenger transport services in the city.

USLM President Ion Rădoi was quoted by the daily newspaper Adevărul as saying that:

...except for the collective agreement provisions that are purely routine, the unions have demanded the application of the inflation adjustment index. Due to the fact that the management’s response was negative; and knowing that, from 2008 to 2013, our salaries have been frozen; and that, on top of that, we have agreed during these years to waive the 13th month salary, the Easter and Christmas bonuses stipulated in the collective agreement, we refused to sign the new collective agreement, which strips us of all these rights.

A further demand was the allocation of funds to improve working conditions on the underground system.

Conflict escalates

The Ministry of Transport issued a press release at the beginning of September.

In it, the ministry said that, as majority shareholder in Metrorex, it had asked the company’s management to ‘submit proposals for the immediate resolution of the claims forwarded by the USLM, so that the conflict could be settled as soon as possible’.

However, talks between unions and management at the beginning of September 2013 failed.

On 17 September 2013, the Metrorex workers staged a two-hour warning strike. Their demands were backed by the Trade Unions Federation from the Transport Transloc and Public Services ATU Romania (Federaţia ATU România).

On 18 September 2013, around 3,000 trade union members staged a protest march from the headquarters of the Romanian Government to the Romanian Parliament. They were calling for pay indexation in line with the inflation rate. They also wanted changes to the rules covering the resolution of industrial disputes in the Social Dialogue Act and the Labour Code.

Resolution

A general strike, planned initially for 30 September 2013. When the Ministry of Transport and the Ministry of Public Finance (MFP) agreed to start talks with unions on 18 September, the strike was deferred to 14 October. Then, on 14 October at the offices of the Ministry of Transport, a new round of collective bargaining took place between Metrorex management and trade union representatives and the parties agreed to suspend the general strike.

A collective agreement valid from October 2013 to October 2014 was signed, guaranteeing rises for workers equivalent to the forecast inflation rate for 2014.

At 17 October 2013, the new collective agreement was registered at the Local Labour Inspectorate Bucharest (ITMB).

Commentary

The Bucharest underground system is a hugely important part of public transport in the capital city of Romania. It serves around 700,000 passengers a day. Its operating costs are not covered by the fares collected and the company receives annual subsidies of around €180 million.

The construction of a fifth underground route and upgrading of the existing network is underway, some of it to improve poor working conditions that cause, unions claim, 15 workers’ deaths every year on average.

Current legislation makes it possible for collective agreements in state-owned companies to be negotiated after approval of the annual budget by the Romanian Parliament. Sometimes the duration of a collective agreement does not overlap the effective length of the annual budget law.

This new agreement creates problems for Metrorex because its 2013 annual budget has not allocated any money for pay rises. Approval of the rise would require additional budgeting for the company, only possible with the agreement of the government. The wage increases accepted by the management and included in the new collective agreement will be paid after the approval of Metrorex’s 2014 budget.

Luminita Chivu, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy

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