Under the umbrella of IndustriALL Global Union and industriAll Europe, Romanian union leaders met in Bucharest on 21 January to discuss organizing and union building strategies against a background of harsh labour laws, increased deregulation and economic and social hardships
The opening of the meeting was attended by Bogdan Hossu, President of Cartel Alfa Confederation, and Dumitru Costin, President of BNS. Both underlined the devastating impact of the 2011 amendments to labour legislation on workers and trade unions.
These amendments have considerably undermined unions and eroded their bargaining power. A large majority of collective agreements today are signed by so-called employee representatives with no bargaining experience and skills. The transfer of social security contribution to employees that was put in place last year has worsened workers’ situation.
In addition to international financial institutions, the Foreign Investors Council has played a key role in pushing through a reform of Romania’s Labour Code. Foreign companies are taking advantage of the weak social dialogue law to bypass trade unions and keep wages low.
Participants reported about corporate abuses of workers’ rights, in particular freedom of association, and behaviour that is not in line with companies’ commitment to respecting international core labour standards.
“Companies would not behave that way in their home country,” according to one participant.
Employers’ interference with workers’ right to join or establish a trade union is common practice.
The challenges unions face vary, according to a union leader. There is a strong need for more solidarity to create an environment for genuine social dialogue. Organizing young people is critical.
Young workers are often not acquainted with unions but, as some examples have shown, they can be won over and become active members when their concerns are addressed. A women delegate indicated that a youth and a women committees have been established in her plant and are working well.
Apart from issues linked to the legal and regulatory framework, affiliates acknowledged that union structures and their functioning have to be reviewed, and unionising has to be made priority if real change is to take place. This means drawing up a plan, identifying organising techniques, focusing on capacity building and earmarking resources accordingly.
IndustriAll Europe’s general secretary, Luc Triangle, said:
There is high potential to build stronger trade unions in Romania. High levels of union membership are the basis for higher wages and better working conditions. We must also strengthen collective bargaining structures and intensify transnational organising campaigns. This is the way forward to get equal pay for equal work.
Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL Global Union’ assistant general secretary, stated:
Strong industrial unions are the basis of our bargaining power. We need to rebuild our strength and move towards more unity in Romania. IndustriALL together with IndustriAll European Trade Union will continue to support our Romanian affiliates in their struggle for decent wages and living conditions.