Workers in Romania defense industry stage pay protest

Reuters, 28 February 2000: 12:44 PM EST (1744 GMT)

BUCHAREST, Romania (Reuters)—Thousands of angry Romanian defense workers, laid off because of falling orders, protested on Monday against the cabinet's failure to pass a bill guaranteeing them 75 percent of their wages.

Industry Minister Radu Berceanu said the government would discuss later on Monday funding to pay highly skilled employees in key sectors three-quarters of their wages while activity was temporarily halted because of a light order book.

“Today we demonstrate, tomorrow we will launch bombs,” shouted over 3,500 workers from the ammunition plant Tohan Zarnesti and the IAR Ghimbav helicopter maker outside government offices in the Transylvanian town of Brasov.

The protesters threatened to go on an indefinite strike unless the centrist coalition government adopted a strategy for the country's defense industry and ensured protection for the sector's 42,000 workers.

Romania, left out of the first wave of NATO's eastward expansion, has to align its military structures to Western standards and streamline the defense industry, where the state has maintained a monopoly since the 1989 fall of communism.

“We will not accept being laid off,” said Gheorghe Sora, leader of the Solidaritatea trade union federation. “Without a strategy and with no orders, the industry is heading for the graveyard.”

He said only 15 percent of Tohan's 7,600 employees were working full time to meet some foreign orders. The rest had been laid off for more than two months.

IAR Ghimbav, he said, had orders to upgrade the IAR Puma helicopters for only five percent of the plant's 2,300 workers.