Trade unions’ initiative promotes social dialogue
A three-year project in Romania has developed the use of social dialogue in rural areas of the country. The project ran from 2010 to 2013 in regions where trade union density is low and there has traditionally been a lack of social dialogue. During the initiative, around 550 events were organised which were attended by more than 17,000 people. The project saw the creation of 260 partnerships between institutions and civil society organisations involved in social dialogue.
Social dialogue initiative
In November 2010, the National Trade Union Confederation Meridian (CSN Meridian), and the Farmers’ Federation (FAF) started a joint project to promote social dialogue in rural areas of Romania. The three-year project, Together for the development of social dialogue in Romania, was co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Government of Romania as part of the EU Sectoral Operational Programme for Human Resources Development 2007–2013.
The project ran until 2013 and its aim was to strengthen managerial capacity and improve the human resources of CSN Meridian and FAF. This was intended to help them enhance their contribution to the development of social dialogue.
The main objectives of the scheme were to:
- develop social dialogue in economic sectors where union density is low;
- put rural workers’ representation through social dialogue on a par with that of workers in urban areas;
- improve the quality of social dialogue through partnerships and cooperation with other social partners in the development regions of Romania;
- inform more than 10,000 people in and around 400 rural settlements of the advantages of social dialogue, particularly for those groups eligible to access finance earmarked by the EU for the development of rural areas.
The project targeted members of the two trade unions leading the initiative, representatives of civil society in rural and ‘disfavoured’ areas, and representatives of the local and central public authorities. It also aimed to include groups likely to have difficulty entering the labour market and others prone to social exclusion.
During the three years allotted to the project, more than 550 events were held. These included national, regional, and county conferences, round tables, legislative debates, the training of trainers and trade union workers, as well as courses in the drafting and evaluation of projects. These were attended by over 17,000 people. Numerous institutions and civil society organisations involved in social dialogue entered into 260 partnerships.
These partnerships served as an advocacy instrument. They promoted social dialogue as a means of supporting regional development. The partnerships connected the communities with the seven regional information and consultation centres set up for promotional purposes and to offer development support. The centres in turn provided help to identify and reduce the vulnerabilities of existing social dialogue mechanisms.
Now the project is complete, it is hoped these seven regional centres will continue to operate and provide consultancy and support, free of charge, on matters related to labour law, forms of association and representativeness issues.
A broad range of topics were covered by the project relevant to salaried employees, farmers and the inhabitants of rural communities. Conferences, seminars, round tables and local events created opportunities for the participants to contribute, through social dialogue, to proposals for new legislation or the amendment of existing labour laws.
One of these contributions resulted in the amendment of the Social Dialogue Act 62/2011, earlier demanded by all the national trade union confederations. Other suggestions included improvements to the organisation and operation of the National Economic and Social Council (CES), a new act regulating transparency of decisions in public administration, and better ways of structuring and managing the health system.
CSN Meridian was actively involved in the debate on working documents for the Industrial Policies and Sustainable Regional Development 2014–2020 plan, and the working paper on the ‘Role of social dialogue and its institutions in the forging and implementing of Romania’s regional development policies for 2014–2020’.
A number of topics were discussed during the project. Agricultural subsidies granted by the European Common Agricultural Policy and from the national budget were among the most hotly debated issues.
One suggestion for reform was that subsidies should be made proportional to the quantity and quality of the agricultural produce, and not to area of land or number of animals.
There were also proposals that:
- legislation regulating microenterprises should be simplified to improve their eligibility for European funds;
- the criteria by which farm land is categorised into favoured and disfavoured areas should be reviewed;
- subsidies to Romanian farmers should be similar to those granted to their peers in other Member States for areas reserved for organic farming;
- any form of discrimination should be stopped.
The project partners provided 20 ‘training the trainers’ courses, courses in the drafting and evaluation of projects, and 19 seminars for the training of social dialogue activists. These courses were completed by 800 trade union members, who were all included in the target group and were divided into three training programmes, for trainers, project managers and union delegates.
One of the ‘horizontal’ objectives of the project was the use of social dialogue as a tool for promoting the concept of equal opportunities.
To support this, a national conference, ‘Women’s role and involvement in the social dialogue, equal opportunities and equal treatment for men and women’, was held in Bucharest and supported by the Ministry of Labour, Family, Social Protection and the Elderly (MMFPSPV). It was attended by over 700 women, of whom 500 were trade union members.
The conference dealt with the contribution that women can make to the development of the trade union movement. It also examined how they should be encouraged to take part in discussions held in the social dialogue committees.
The conference debated and adopted two key documents: the National Strategy for Employment 2014–2020 and the Action Plan for the Implementation of the Strategy which includes policies intended to promote equal opportunities between men and women. All these papers are now being debated publicly under the supervision of the MMFPSPV.
Three workshops held during the conference were attended by many representatives of social dialogue institutions, including central and local administration, business environment, and non-governmental organisations. The topics discussed included:
- improving women’s access to the labour market;
- stimulating entrepreneurship among women;
- balancing family life and work.
The social dialogue project was conducted during a tumultuous three-year period in Romania. During that time the Government of Romania, in an attempt to tackle the economic crisis, unilaterally enacted legislation that introduced austerity measures, bypassing the parliament and ignoring the principles of social dialogue. The Social Dialogue Act itself was one piece of legislation adopted in this manner.
The initiative of a project designed to develop the culture of social dialogue, particularly in rural and disfavoured areas where trade union density is very low, is very welcome.
It has helped social dialogue move from the strictly regulated sphere, which requires compliance with legal and organisational criteria of representativeness, to the sphere of social dialogue through local partnerships which are not encumbered by institutional rigidity.
Making sure the regional centres and the local partnerships formed under this project remain active is now vital, and a challenge for the future.
Luminiţa Chivu, Institute of National Economy, Romanian Academy