Romanian textile unions met in Bucharest to debate the road towards an organised workforce with living wages and collective agreements, together with global brands H&M and Inditex, their key suppliers, employer associations and the government.
Romania is the biggest textile, garment, leather and footwear producing country in South-East Europe with 250,000 workers in almost 10,000 factories. Salaries are close to the national minimum wage of 2,080 leis (euro440) per month.
The government has raised the minimum wage in the past years, but moving the payment of social security contributions from companies to workers in 2017 has had a negative impact on workers. With a deduction of over 40 per cent, workers are left with a monthly net pay of around 250-300 euros.
The Social Dialogue Law reform in 2011 destroyed collective bargaining in the country; with a high threshold to conclude agreements, there are practically no sectoral collective agreements left. At the company level, 90 per cent of the “agreements” are signed by “worker representatives”, mostly appointed by the employers.
The law requires 15 workers to form a union. As over 90 per cent of companies have less than 15 employees, in practice a quarter of the workforce is deprived of the fundamental right of freedom of association, guaranteed in the Romanian Constitution and ILO Convention 87.
But after an increase of inequality and in-work poverty, the Romanian government and European institutions seem to be changing their views on collective bargaining. A difficult process in underway in the Romanian parliament, with a strong business lobby against any changes.
However, some textile employers see it differently:
“We want to promote a sectoral collective agreement, linked with increased productivity. Young people do not want to work in our industry, unless the wages go up, but that requires a focus on high quality production”, said Irina Mihai from the FEPAIUS textile employers’ federation.
Doru Lascu, president of the union Confpeltex, agreed:
“Raising the minimum wage is useful, but a sectoral collective agreement is a better tool for addressing salaries and a lot of other issues. For achieving that, we need stronger unions and more representative employer associations.”
Dan Nastase, president of Uniconf union, said that global framework agreements (GFA) guarantee the right for workers to join a union:
“Union density is very low, and we will work on an organizing plan together with other unions. However, we need protection. Too often workers are fired when they try to organize,” said Nastase.
Christina Hajagos-Clausen, IndustriALL textile director, showcased how unions work with global brands; the Bangladesh Accord, how GFAs can be used in organizing, and the Action – Collaboration – Transformation (ACT) initiative to achieve living wages.
Representatives from GFA partners H&M and Inditex, also members of ACT, explained how they in cooperation with unions solve problems when they occur and promote functioning labour-management relations and collective bargaining.
IndustriAll Europe´s general secretary, Luc Triangle, said:
“We ask the Romanian government to reinstall the sector collective bargaining structures destroyed in 2011. It is only through good sector collective bargaining wages and working conditions can be improved and create a future for this important sector in Romania. We also ask that global brands and local allow union access. Stronger unions are key to higher wages.”
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:
“Together with our affiliates we will continue to put pressure on the government to restore union bargaining rights. Global framework agreements are important tools for promoting social dialogue and organizing, and we will use that leverage to support our Romanian affiliates in their efforts to build strong unions and achieve better conditions.”
The seminar in Bucharest on 22-23 January was part of an EU-funded project “Strengthening the capacity of trade unions in South-East Europe to improve wages and working conditions in the garment and footwear sectors”, carried out in cooperation between industriAll Europe and IndustriALL Global Union. The project targets seven countries; Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Northern Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia.