Romania: Latest developments in working life Q1 2019
Romania’s low unemployment rate, severe labour shortages, and strikes over pay in the energy and manufacturing sectors are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Romania in the first quarter of 2019.
Low unemployment but severe labour shortages
The unemployment rate in February 2019 was the lowest since 1990, at 3.8% (in comparison, the rate was 4.4% in February 2018 and 5.1% in February 2017). The number of active employees in February 2019 was 5,546,800, in comparison to 4,915,600 in February 2018. 
These positive developments have been accompanied by a chronic labour shortage. In 2018, 81% of Romanian employers believed that filling their available positions was the most difficult challenge according to ManpowerGroup’s Talent Shortage Survey.  The survey also revealed that the share of employers in Romania affected by labour shortages was at its highest level for 10 years.
In January, in response to the labour shortage, the government set a foreign worker quota for 2019 of 20,000. This was much higher than the 13,500 proposed in December 2018 and represents the first immigration-specific action designed to target the labour shortage. An opinion poll conducted by the Frames Media Network in March showed that 72% of employers supported the government’s decision to increase the quota.  Since Romania’s accession to the EU in 2007, the country’s quota for workers originating from non-EU countries has been restricted to approximately 5,000 workers per year by national immigration legislation. The government raised the quota to 7,000 at the beginning of 2018 and, due to pressure from employers in the construction and tourism sectors, increased it by another 8,000 in August.
Immigrant workers in Romania are particularly vulnerable to abuse because current legislation only provides employer levers of control over the employee, not vice versa. Immigrant workers therefore often find themselves being illegally employed without knowing it. Most of the foreign workers in Romania originate from China, Turkey and Vietnam.
Workers strike over pay in energy and manufacturing
A number of protests and strikes took place in Romania in the first quarter of 2019, some of which were related to collective bargaining.
A wildcat strike (where unionised workers take action without the authorisation of their unions) occurred in the second half of January at Complexul Energetic Oltenia, a state-owned company and one of the biggest energy producers in Romania. An estimated 8,000 workers (out of 13,300) attended the protest, where they demanded a 45% wage increase, early retirement and vacation vouchers.
Hundreds of workers continued to strike even after an agreement was reached between the company management and trade union representatives, providing for wage increases and vacation vouchers in an addendum to the collective agreement.
The strike was declared illegal by a court because it was not coordinated by the company’s trade union, it occurred during the collective agreement’s validity (until 2020) and it did not fulfil the legal steps of an industrial action. The protest was the latest in a long line of wildcat strikes that have occurred in Romania over the last few years, due to strict legislative provisions regarding industrial action, poor social dialogue and tense labour relations.
Another significant strike took place in March, at the Electrolux plant in Satu Mare County. Approximately 400 workers, members of the SAMUS trade union, walked out after management and the trade union failed to reach an agreement during collective bargaining. The trade union was requesting a wage increase of RON 2 per hour (€0.42 as at 9 May 2019) per worker, which management rejected.
Workers at Electrolux are currently receiving around €360 per month (€400 with meal vouchers). This is below the living wage in Romania, which was €537 for a single person and €1,410 for a family of two adults with two children in 2018.  The strike action has received support from the National Trade Union Confederation (Cartel ALFA), as well as industriAll Europe, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).
A new draft law on social dialogue, which was submitted in 2018 and includes more permissive provisions for industrial action, is currently being debated with social partners in the Chamber of Deputies (the decision-making chamber of the Romanian Parliament). This law is expected to be submitted to a vote in the plenary of the Chamber of Deputies in the second quarter of 2019.