Romania: Protests over proposed law on wage-setting in the public sector
A new emergency bill on public sector employees’ wage-setting was adopted on 8 June 2016, despite opposition and protest from trade unions.
Trade unions were strongly critical of the emergency ordinance project as it would further widen the salary gap between employees on low and high incomes. Following the resignation of the Minister of Labour, Ana-Claudia Costea, in mid-April, a new draft emergency ordinance was put into public discussion, triggering a wave of protests organised by the trade unions in the education sector. Unions refused the offer made by the government that would provide for a wage increase of 10% starting on 1 August 2017 and asked instead for a two-stage increase: 5% from 1 August 2016 and another 5% from 1 January 2017. The average monthly wage in education is 1,960 RON (€434), which is 100 RON (€22) below the national average wage. Following the government's rejection of their requests, a general protest involving 10,000 people took place in Bucharest on 1 June. The protesters also asked that 6% of the GDP would be allocated to education. According to Eurostat, Romania spends less than 3% on education, ranking last among EU Member States in terms of the total public expenditure on education.
The emergency ordinance was finally adopted on 8 June 2016 (20/2016), but it did not meet the expectations of all public employees. Sanitas Federation, the representative union federation from the health sector, submitted a document to both chambers of the Romanian Parliament containing amendments to the ordinance and threatening further protests if their demands were not met. The text of the new ordinance was also criticised by the trade unions from the public administration (FNSA), who claim that local administration employees did not benefit from the 70% wage increase applied to central administration employees, a provision deemed to be discriminatory. They asked for a 25% increase of the basic wages of all employees from the local public administration.
On 12 July, 30,000 employees from public administration went on strike for one day and announced an unlimited general strike starting on 19 July. However, this did not take place due to an agreement signed between the government and the trade unions, concluded during bilateral negotiations on 16–17 July 2016. The agreement provides for the setting up of a partnership between the government and the trade unions to draft a plan for public administration reform, as well as a joint analysis of the negative effects of the application of Ordinance 20/2016.
Law 20/2016 comes in the wake of the Parliament's approval of a salary increase of 25% for all employees of the health public sector and 10% for all public employees in December 2015, leading to an 8% increase of the public wages expenditure in the first three months of 2016 as compared to the same period of 2015. The expenditure on public employees’ wages will increase by 10% as compared to 2016, amounting to 7. 7% of the GPD. This is the highest figure since 2011, but it is still beyond the level of 2009 (9.5%), the year before public sector wages were cut by 25% as part of the austerity package implemented in 2010. Ordinance 20/2016 comes into force on 1 August 2016, but it is likely that discussions between the government and trade unions from public administration, education and health regarding the wage reform in the public sector will continue over the next few months.