Economic turmoil accompanies denial of trade union rights

ICFTU ONLINE..., 185/991006/DD, 6 October 1999

Brussels October 6 1999 (ICFTU OnLine):Although Romania has ratified the major ILO Conventions on workers' rights, and has laws on its statute books to guarantee trade union rights, the government has not enabled workers to exercise those rights. This is the conclusion of a report out today (October 6) by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). The report has been produced to complement the WTO's Trade Policy review of Romania.

According to the report, while the government has ratified Convention 87 (on Freedom of Association) and workers are free to form and join trade unions, the law is poorly enforced. Many companies oppose unions and have non-union clauses in their internal regulations. In theory workers are able to take cases of anti-union discrimination to the courts, but hearings take up to two years. Even where they judge in the workers' favour, rulings are largely ignored by employers. It is also impossible for workers in small private companies to organise, as the law requires at least 15 employees to form a union, and many companies in the small private sector have less than 15 employees.

The government has ratified ILO Convention 98 on the right to strike. However, unions find it difficult to go on strike because of the lengthy and cumbersome procedures they have to follow. After unions call a strike, the courts still intervene and have routinely ruled that strikes are illegal. The law also forbids strikes in “essential services”, and although this year the government struck off a few sectors from the category of essential services, the ILO has ruled that it is still too broad. For example this May workers in the Bucharest Metro service were banned from going on strike.

The Romanian government has taken steps to prevent discrimination at work by ratifying ILO Conventions 100 and 111, and the Romanian Constitution also outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, ethnic origin, and sex. However, this is not properly enforced, as women continue to have higher unemployment rates than men, and they are less likely to receive promotion in the private sector than their male counterparts.

There is also considerable discrimination in employment against the Hungarian and Romani population, as according to the government's findings their share of jobs is only half what one would expect in relation to their population size. However, in 1996 the government created the Department for the Protection of National Minorities to deal with this discrimination.

There does not appear to be widespread use of child labour in the formal sector, but in the rural areas and within the family, children are a source of cheap labour. However, with the increase in poverty, there are growing numbers of homeless street children working in the larger cities. The government is working with the ILO and has established a National Plan of Action against child labour to cope with this.

The ICFTU concludes its report in saying that the government should ensure that the law against anti-union discrimination should be properly enforced, and that it should bring its definition of essential services in line with ILO guidelines. In addition, it should ensure that more active measures are taken to address the problems of discrimination against women and against minority groups.

The ICFTU says that the WTO should draw the Romanian government's attention to the commitments it made to observe core labour standards at the WTO Ministerial Conferences in 1996 and 1998.

Note: The ICFTU will be present at the Seattle Ministerial, where it will be arguing the case for linking labour standards and trade to prevent further exploitation of workers.