Romanian trade unions threaten more protests

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Thousands of Romanian public sector workers gathered outside government headquarters in Bucharest on Wednesday to rally against the planned downsizing of the public sector. They protested planned pay cuts and growing job insecurity, as well as the so-called single wage bill, which will in effect freeze pay in the sector for an indefinite period.

Threatening further protests, union leaders called on voters to boycott the November 22nd presidential elections. The government, meanwhile, faces a no-confidence vote next week.

Bogdan Hossu, leader of Cartel Alfa Union, recalled that President Traian Băsescu had told reporters he would not seek a second term if the number of unemployed reaches one million people.

As many as 15,000 people from all over Romania joined Wednesday's demonstration. It followed a one-day strike Monday, when up to 800,000 teachers, doctors, nurses, policemen, clerks and other public sector employees took to the streets in what has been described as Romania's largest protest in the last 80 years.

The catalyst was adoption of reform measures aimed at cutting the swollen budget deficit and meeting commitments spelled out in an IMF-led financial rescue package worth nearly 20 billion euros.

"We need these measures to be taken now. If not, it could lead to a prolonged recession," the AFP quoted Nicolae Chidesciuc, senior economist at ING Romania, as saying Wednesday.

But the government's recent move to reform the public pay scale — ending intricate bonus programmes and effectively reducing the wages of most employees in the public sector — caused an uproar.

Chanting "thieves! thieves!", the participants in Wednesday's rally demanded that the government to resign. "You promised us, then you forgot us," they shouted.

"The authorities forced us to the streets again; we did not want this to happen today, on the World Day for Decent Work, as we are now celebrating indecent work," said Aurel Cornea, vice-president of the Teachers' Union, one of the four trade unions that organised the rally.

The list of demands they submitted Wednesday called for the minimum wage to be increased from its current level of around 145 euros to 176 euros per month in 2010 and to 310 euros per month in 2014, and for an improvement of the salary scales under the unitary pay law for the public sector. They also urged authorities to scrap provisions introducing a mandatory unpaid leave of ten days a year.

According to Romanian media reports, the unions are also pressing the government to increase economic investment, support economic agencies, create jobs, protect workers and ensure decent pensions.

Romania has been hit badly by the global economic turmoil. According to IMF estimates for 2009, the country's budget deficit is expected to top 7.3% of GDP and the economy will shrink by 8.5% this year.

Prime Minister Emil Boc, whose government faces a no-confidence vote in parliament on Tuesday, has urged the unionists to halt their protests until after next month's presidential elections.