Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April 2014, 10:56 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Moldova

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Moldova, 30 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1b2c.html [accessed 24 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997

 

Moldova gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1994 it adopted a Constitution that provides for a multiparty representative government with power divided among a president, cabinet, parliament, and judiciary. Parliamentary Speaker Petru Lucinschi, running as an independent, was elected President in a second-round runoff election, replacing the incumbent Mircea Snegur. International observers considered the elections to be free and fair. Prime Minister Andre Sangheli and the cabinet resigned immediately after the election, but agreed to remain as caretakers until President Lucinschi could appoint a new government after his January 15 inauguration.

Moldova remains divided, with mostly Slavic separatists controlling the Transnistrian region along the Ukrainian border. This separatist regime has entered negotiations with the national Government on the possibility of a special status for the region. Progress has been blocked, however, by the separatists' continuing demands for "statehood" and recognition of Moldova as a confederation of two equal states. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Russian Federation, and Ukraine act as mediators. The two sides have generally observed the cease-fire of July 1992, which ended armed conflict between them, but other agreements to normalize relations have often not been honored. A Christian Turkic minority, the Gagauz, enjoys local autonomy in the southern part of the country.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs has responsibility for the police. The Ministry of National Security controls other security organs. The Constitution assigns to Parliament the authority to investigate the activities of these ministries to ensure that they comply with legislation in effect. There is also a protective service, which guards the President, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker of Parliament. Some members of the security forces committed human rights abuses.

Moldova continued to make progress in economic reform. A privatization program based on vouchers issued to all citizens is virtually complete. However, the economy is largely based on agriculture, and agricultural privatization continued to lag behind. In April the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a law slowing the conversion of land belonging to agricultural collectives into private property. In October the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional a law forbidding private agricultural land sales until 2001 and limiting the period when farmers could withdraw from collectives to a few months a year. Some 50,000 private farmers are officially registered. Estimates of those persons seeking to register range from 100,000 to 150,000. Private land holdings represent only 4 percent of the total land available for agriculture. Per capita gross domestic product is about $430.

The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens, however, there are problems in some areas. The police occasionally beat detainees and prisoners. Security forces monitor political figures, use unauthorized wiretaps, and at times conduct illegal searches. Prison conditions remain harsh. The judiciary is subject to the influence of the prosecutor's office. The Constitution potentially limits the activities of political parties and the press. Societal discrimination against women persists. Addressing a minority concern, the Constitution allows parents the right to choose the language of education for their children.

The Transnistrian authorities continue to be responsible for human rights abuses, including pressure on the media, questionable detentions, and discrimination against Romanian/Moldovan speakers. Detailed information about the human rights situation in the region is difficult to obtain.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no verified reports of politically motivated killings either in Moldova or its separatist region. Information from Transnistria is, however, limited. In June the wife of a former Russian army special investigator being held without charge in Transnistria died under mysterious circumstances. The investigator was released in October, but continues to suffer from a medical condition that considerably worsened while he was being detained because of a lack of adequate treatment.

b. Disappearance

A vice president of the independent television station, which at times has been pressured by the Government, was abducted by men wearing police uniforms in January and has not been seen since. The Ministry of Internal Affairs claims that its personnel were not involved and attributes the abduction to a private settling of criminal accounts.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were no allegations of torture by the authorities, but there were credible reports that police sometimes beat prisoners and suspects.

In late December 1995, the home of journalists Tamara Gorinci and her husband of the weekly Mesagerul was invaded by persons in police uniforms and the journalists were beaten. The weekly was running a series on corruption in the carabineri, a small, specialized police unit. There were other attacks on journalists from this publication, as well as others, in late 1995 and early 1996. Circumstances and identities of perpetrators are difficult to establish. The perpetrators in one case were arrested, reportedly nonpolicemen who were engaged in a robbery attempt, but no arrests were made in the other cases.

Conditions in most prisons remain harsh, with serious overcrowding. Spatial norms do not meet local legal requirements. Conditions are especially harsh in prisons used to hold people awaiting trial or sentencing; in September Council of Europe experts criticized the harsh conditions of the facilities for those in detention. These prisons especially suffer from overcrowding, bad ventilation, and a lack of recreational and rehabilitation facilities. Conditions for those serving sentences are only marginally better. The incidence of disease, especially tuberculosis, and malnutrition is high in all facilities. Abuse of prisoners by other prisoners or jailers themselves, ostensibly for disciplinary reasons, has been reduced by the dismissal or retirement of some of the worst offending guards. The Ministry of Justice took over authority for the prisons, replacing the Ministry of Interior.

Human rights monitors are permitted to visit prisons.

After questionable trials, four Moldovans are serving sentences in Transnistria for terrorism-related crimes (see Section 1.e.). The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was denied the possibility of visiting them despite numerous representations to the Tiraspol authorities.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The former Soviet Code on Penal Procedure remains in force with some amendments. Prosecutors issue arrest warrants. Under the Constitution, a suspect may be detained without charge for 24 hours. The suspect is normally allowed family visits during this period. The 24-hour time limit was generally respected. If charged, a suspect may be released pending trial. There is no system of bail, but in some cases a friend or relative, in order to arrange release, may give a written undertaking that the accused will appear for trial.

Suspects accused of violent or serious crimes are generally not released before trial. The Constitution permits pretrial arrest for an initial period of 30 days, which may be extended to 6 months. In exceptional cases, Parliament may approve extension of pretrial detention on an individual basis of up to 12 months. The accused has the right under the Constitution to a hearing before a court regarding the legality of his arrest. According to figures provided by the Ministry of Justice in October, 1,746 persons were held in confinement awaiting trial.

According to the Constitution, a detained person must be informed immediately of the reason for his arrest, and must be made aware of the charges against him "as quickly as possible." The accused is provided with the right to a defense attorney throughout the entire process, and the attorney must be present when the charges are brought. Many lawyers point out that in practice, access to a lawyer is generally granted only after a person has been detained 24 hours. If the defendant cannot afford an attorney, the State requires the local bar association to provide one. Because the State is unable to pay standard legal fees, a lawyer who is less than competent or energetic is often chosen.

The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Although the prosecutor's office still has undue influence, the independence of the judiciary has increased since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The Constitutional Court made several rulings that demonstrated its independence. In April the court overturned the Parliament's amendments to the land code that had in effect halted land reform by preventing peasants from individually withdrawing their land from collective farms. Also in April, the court ruled that President Snegur's attempted dismissal of Defense Minister Creanga was unconstitutional. In October the Court overturned a Central Electoral Commission decision to exclude a presidential candidate from competing in the November 17 election by questioning large numbers of the signatures on her electoral petitions. The respective parties complied with these decisions.

The Constitution provides that the President, on the nomination of an expert judicial body, the Superior Court of Magistrates, appoints judges for an initial period of 5 years. They may be reappointed for a subsequent 10 years, after which they serve until retirement age. This provision for judicial tenure is designed to increase judicial independence.

The judiciary consists of lower courts, an appellate court, a Supreme Court, and a Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court provided for in the 1994 Constitution came into existence in February 1995. A July 1995 law on judicial reforms specified a system of appeals courts. There are district courts of the first instance and five regional tribunals. The Higher Appeals Court and the Supreme Court, which serves as a final court of appeal, are both in Chisinau. The Supreme Court supervises and reviews the activities of the lower courts.

By law defendants in criminal cases are presumed innocent. In practice prosecutors' recommendations still carry considerable weight and limit the defendant's actual presumption of innocence. Trials are generally open to the public. Defendants have the right to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence. Defense attorneys are able to review the evidence against their clients when preparing their cases. The accused enjoys a right to appeal to a higher court. Because the Government has been unable to fund fully the new appeals courts mandated in 1995, most of the tribunals and the Higher Appeals Court are not functioning. Cases cannot be appealed directly to the Supreme Court, thereby creating a backlog of cases on appeal. Court decisions involving the restitution of salary or a position are not always implemented.

To date no pattern of discrimination has emerged in the judicial system. The new Constitution provides for the right of the accused to have an interpreter both at the trial and in reviewing the documents of the case. If the majority of participants agree, trials may take place in Russian or another acceptable language instead of Romanian/Moldovan.

There continue to be credible reports that local prosecutors occasionally bring unjustified charges against individuals in retribution for accusations of official corruption or for political reasons. Prosecutors occasionally use bureaucratic maneuvers to restrict lawyers' access to clients.

There were no reports of political prisoners.

In Transnistria four Moldovans, members of the "Ilascu Six," remain in prison following their conviction in 1993 for allegedly killing two separatist officials. International human rights groups raised serious questions about the fairness of the trial, and local organizations alleged that the Moldovans were prosecuted for political reasons, solely because of their membership in the Christian Democratic Popular Front, a Moldovan party that favors reunification with Romania. Family members have been allowed access. However, the Transnistrian "authorities" have refused to allow the ICRC access under standard ICRC terms and conditions, such as access to an entire detention facility and a private meeting. The most recent such attempt was in April.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Both prosecutors and judges may issue search warrants. In some instances searches are conducted without warrants. Courts do not exclude evidence that was illegally obtained. There is no judicial review of search warrants.

The Constitution specifies that searches must be carried out "in accordance with the law," but does not specify the consequences if the law is not respected. It also forbids searches at night, except in the case of flagrant crime.

It is widely believed that security agencies continue to use electronic monitoring of residences and telephones without proper authorization. By law the prosecutor's office must authorize wiretaps and may do so only if a criminal investigation is under way. In practice the prosecutor's office lacks the ability to control the security organizations and police and to prevent them from using wiretaps illegally.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution and the law provide for freedom of speech and the press, although with some restrictions. The Government does not abridge freedom of speech and the print media express a wide variety of political views and commentary. National and city governments own a number of newspapers, but political parties and professional organizations, including trade unions, also publish newspapers.

There were several assaults on journalists engaged in investigations of alleged official corruption (see Section 1.c.). Circumstances and identities of perpetrators are difficult to establish. The perpetrators in one case were arrested; they were reportedly nonpolicemen engaged in a robbery attempt. However, no arrests have been made in the other cases. It is too early to tell if these attacks have had an inhibiting effect on the willingness of the press to investigate corruption.

Several independent radio stations broadcast in Moldova, including a religious one. An independent television station broadcasts in the Chisinau area. The independent media outlets maintain news staffs and conduct a number of public interest programs. The Government owns and operates a television channel that covers the whole country as well as several of the major radio stations. The city government of Balti operates its own television and radio stations.

Parliament removed language in the press law enforcing the prohibitions contained in the Constitution, which forbid "contesting or defaming the State and the people," and political parties that "militate" against the country's sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. However, these restrictions remain in the Constitution. They appear to be aimed at journalists publishing material in favor of reunification with Romania or questioning the legal right of the Republic of Moldova to exist.

The Government does not restrict foreign publications. However, Western European and American publications do not circulate widely since they are very expensive by local standards. Some Russian newspapers are available, but do not circulate widely due to their expense. Moldova receives television and radio broadcasts from Romania and Russia. Cable subscribers receive Cable News Network, the U.S. National Broadcasting Corporation, Super Channel, Euro-News, and a number of other news and entertainment networks.

Of the two major newspapers in Transnistria, one is controlled by the regional authorities and the other by the Tiraspol city government. The latter criticizes the regime from time to time. Other print media in Transnistria do not have large circulations and appear only on a weekly or monthly basis. Nonetheless, some of them also criticize local authorities. The one independent cable television station is under constant pressure from the authorities. It had to restrict its activity when it lost a libel suit brought by the local authorities this spring. Most Moldovan newspapers do not circulate in Transnistria. Circulation of all print media in Transnistria is greatly hampered by the local economic crisis, which is more severe than in the rest of Moldova.

The Government respects academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the right to peaceful assembly. The local mayor's office generally issues permits for demonstrations; it may consult the national Government if the demonstration is likely to be extremely large.

The Constitution states that citizens are free to form parties and other social and political organizations. Private organizations, including political parties, are required to register, but applications are approved routinely. The Constitution declares unconstitutional parties that "militate against the sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity of Moldova."

c. Freedom of Religion

The Government generally permits free practice of religion. A 1992 law on religion codifies religious freedoms, although it contained restrictions that could inhibit the activities of some religious groups. The law provides for freedom of religious practice, including each person's right to profess his religion in any form. It also provides for alternative military service for conscientious objectors, protects the confidentiality of the confessional, allows denominations to establish associations and foundations, and states that the Government may not interfere in the religious activities of denominations. The law, however, requires that religious groups register with the Government in order to hire noncitizens. The law also prohibits proselytizing.

Some Protestant denominations are concerned that the prohibition on proselytizing could inhibit their activities, although many denominations hold revival meetings apparently without official interference. To date the authorities have taken no legal action against individuals for proselytizing. The Salvation Army, however, was unable to register as a religious denomination because it did not meet the requirement of having a Moldovan citizen as the organization's legal head.

Although Eastern Orthodoxy is not designated the official religion, it continues to be a strong religious force and exert significant influence. In 1992 a number of priests broke away from the Moldovan Orthodox Church, which is subordinate to the Moscow Patriarchate, in order to form the Bessarabian Orthodox Church. The Bessarabian Orthodox Church, which sees itself as the legal and canonical successor to the pre-World War II Romanian Orthodox Church in Bessarabia (the part of Moldova between the Dniester and Prut rivers), subordinated itself to the Bucharest patriarchate of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The Government has consistently refused to register the Bessarabian Church, citing unresolved property claims as the principal reason.

The Jewish community, although small, is very active. Jewish leaders reported that their relations with the Government and local authorities were good.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government does not restrict travel within the country. Citizens generally are able to travel freely; however, there are some restrictions on emigration. Close relatives with a claim to support from the applicant must give their concurrence. The Government may also deny permission to emigrate if the applicant had access to state secrets. Such cases, however, are very rare, and none were reported in 1996.

Travel between Transnistria and the balance of the country is not prevented. There are regularly scheduled buses. However, the separatist "authorities" do stop and search both incoming and outgoing vehicles. They restrict the flow of information materials, preventing persons from bringing either Moldovan or Western publications into the separatist region.

Moldova is not a party to the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees or its 1967 Protocol. The issue of providing first asylum has never arisen. There were no reports of the forced return of persons to a country where they feared persecution.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens voted in the first multiparty parliamentary elections in 1994, and in the country's second presidential election in November. Parliamentary Speaker Lucinschi, running as an independent, won a second-round runoff election on December 1. International observers considered the elections to be free and fair. The peaceful transition of presidential power represents further progress in the transition to democracy.

The Transnistrian "authorities," however, refused to allow polling stations to be set up in the separatist region and restricted access of Transnistrian voters to stations in the rest of the country. Turnout from Transnistria in the election was less than 2 percent of those eligible to vote.

Preelection maneuvering caused a realignment of the various registered political parties in the country, plus a fragmentation of the leftist parties represented in Parliament, including both the former ruling party, the Democratic Agrarian Party, and its close ally, the Socialist/Unity Bloc. Incumbent President Snegur is moving to become leader of the rightist opposition, in preparation for parliamentary elections to be held by February 1998. Supporters of President-elect Lucinschi have also moved to establish their own party to compete in these elections. Leftist and agrarian groups are seeking to form coalitions.

The Constitution adopted in 1994 provides for the division of power between the popularly elected President, the Cabinet, the Parliament, and the judiciary. The President, as Head of State, in consultation with the Parliament, appoints the Cabinet and Prime Minister, who functions as the Head of Government. However, a minster can only be dismissed with the assent of the Prime Minister.

In March the President tried to dismiss the Defense Minister, an army general, by using his powers as Supreme Commander of the armed forces. In April the Constitutional Court ruled that the general's position as a government minister meant that he could not be fired without the assent of the Prime Minister. The President immediately accepted the Court's decision, thereby averting a constitutional crisis. Many observers thought that the incident showed a possible deficiency in the Constitution regarding the sharing of executive powers between the offices of the President and the Prime Minister.

Parliamentary elections must take place no later than every 4 years. Given the fragmentation of some of the parliamentary parties as well as the possible need to revise the Constitution, a number of parliamentarians called for parliamentary elections following the presidential elections. Early elections may be necessary if President-elect Lucinschi has difficulty forming a government.

The Constitution states that citizens are free to form parties and other social and political organizations. A controversial article states, however, that those organizations that "are engaged in fighting against political pluralism, the principles of the rule of law, the sovereignty and independence or territorial integrity of the republic of Moldova" are "unconstitutional." Opposition parties, some of which favor rapid or eventual reunification with neighboring Romania, have charged that this provision is intended to impede their political activities.

There are no restrictions in law or practice barring the participation of women or minorities in political life. However, women are generally underrepresented in leading positions of political parties. Women hold only 5 of 104 parliamentary seats. The Association of Moldovan Women, a social and political organization, competed in the 1994 elections, but was unable to gain parliamentary representation. Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, and Gagauz minorities are represented in Parliament. Debate takes place in either the Romanian/Moldovan or Russian language, with translation provided.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Several local human rights groups exist. The local Helsinki Watch organization maintains contacts with international human rights organizations, as does the Helsinki Citizens Assembly, whose president is the chairman of the Parliament's Human Rights Commission. Human rights groups operate without government interference.

The Government has welcomed and supported the work of the OSCE, which has had a mission in the country since 1993 to assist with finding a resolution for the separatist conflict. The OSCE participates in the Joint Control Commission – composed of Russian, Moldovan, Ukrainian, and Transnistrian members – which reviews violations of the cease-fire agreement. The mission now generally enjoys access to the "security zone" along the river dividing the separatist-controlled territory from the rest of Moldova.

Moldova has cooperated with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in the past, permitting visits to prisoners from the 1992 conflict (since released).

Since 1993 Transnistrian separatist authorities have not allowed the ICRC access to the four members of the "Ilascu Six" still in prison (see Section 1.e.).

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution states that persons are equal before the law regardless of race, sex, disability, religion, or social origin. There are remedies for violations, such as orders for redress of grievances, but these are not always enforced.

Women

Women abused by their husbands have the right to press charges; husbands convicted of such abuse may receive prison sentences (typically up to 6 months). Public awareness of the problem of violence in families is not very high and no special government programs exist to combat spousal abuse. According to knowledgeable sources, women do not generally appeal to police or the courts for protection against abusive spouses because they are embarrassed to do so. Police generally do not consider spousal abuse a serious crime. However, when cases do reach a court, they appear to be treated seriously. Women and legal authorities report that spousal abuse is not widespread. Through November the Ministry of Internal Affairs recorded 276 cases of rape or attempted rape. A newly formed women's crisis group believes that the number of rapes is greatly underreported.

The law provides that women shall be equal to men. However, according to statistics, women have been disproportionately affected by growing unemployment. By law women are paid the same as men for the same work. Although still victimized by societal discrimination, anecdotal evidence suggests that women are more employable than men (being seen as more flexible, better workers), and are working because of economic necessity. There are a significant number of female managers in the public sector; the president of Moldova's leading private sector bank is a woman.

Children

There is extensive legislation designed to protect children, including extended paid maternity leave and government supplementary payments for families with many children. Ten years of basic education are compulsory, followed by either technical school or further study leading to higher education. The health system devotes extensive resources to child care. No special problems concerning child abuse came to light in 1996 nor is there a societal pattern of abuse of children, but child support programs suffered from inadequate funding along with other government programs.

People with Disabilities

There is no legal discrimination against people with disabilities. However, there are no laws providing for accessibility of buildings, and there are few government resources devoted to training people with disabilities. The Government does provide tax advantages to charitable groups that assist the disabled.

Religious Minorities

The Bessarabian Church has been harassed by unknown persons, including a grenade attack in September on the Metropolitan's (the presiding Bishop's) house, which caused no deaths or injuries and only small material damage.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The population is about 4.3 million, of which 65 percent are ethnic Moldovans. Ukrainians (14 percent) and Russians (13 percent) are the two largest minorities. A Christian Turkic minority, the Gagauz, lives primarily in the southern regions of the country. They are largely Russian speaking and represent about 3.5 percent of the population.

The 1990 Citizenship Law offered an equal opportunity to all persons resident at the time of independence to adopt Moldovan citizenship. The OSCE's Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights described the law as being very liberal. The law permits dual citizenship on the basis of a bilateral agreement, but no such agreements are in effect. In 1994 the Parliament voted to delay until 1997 implementation of the language testing called for in the Language Law of 1989 which was due to begin in 1994. The principle inherent in the Language Law is that, in dealing with any official or commercial entity, the citizen should be able to choose the language to use. Officials are therefore obligated to know Russian and Romanian/Moldovan "to the degree necessary to fulfill their professional obligations." Since many Russian speakers do not speak Romanian/Moldovan (while educated Moldovans speak both languages), they argued for a delay in the implementation of the law in order to permit more time to learn the language. Addressing a minority concern, the Constitution provides parents with the right to choose the language of instruction for their children.

In the separatist region, however, discrimination against Romanian/Moldovan speakers continued. Schools in the area are required to use the Cyrillic alphabet when teaching Romanian. Many teachers, parents, and students objected to the use of the Cyrillic script to teach Romanian. They believe that it disadvantages pupils in pursuing higher education opportunities in the rest of the Moldova or Romania. (Cyrillic script was used to write the Romanian language in Moldova until 1989, since "Moldovan," as it was then called, was officially decreed during the Soviet era to be a different language than Romanian, which is written in the Latin alphabet. The 1989 Language Law reinstituted the use of the Latin script.)

As a result of an agreement between the Government and the separatist authorities, 19 schools in the separatist region obtained permission in January 1995 to use the Latin alphabet, with salaries and textbooks to be supplied by the Moldovan Ministry of Education. Implementation was modest during the 1995-96 school year, largely due to bureaucratic obstacles imposed by authorities in the separatist region. Separatist authorities rescinded permission a few weeks after the 1996 school year opened in September, with the schools closed by local police and Cossacks. Teachers from these schools were taken from their homes in the evening and held for questioning for a number of hours before being released. Separatist authorities in early October detained several teachers for 6 days before releasing them. At least one teacher from such a school was fired. At year's end, the schools were open but teaching Romanian in Cyrillic script.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1990 Soviet Law on Trade Unions, which was enacted by Moldova's then-Supreme Soviet and is still in effect, provides for independent trade unions. Laws passed in 1989 and 1991, which give citizens the right to form all kinds of social organizations, also provide a legal basis for the formation of independent unions. The 1994 Constitution further declares that any employee may found a union or join a union that defends workers' interests. However, there have been no known attempts to establish alternate trade union structures independent of the successor to the previously existing official organizations that were part of the Soviet trade union system.

The successor organization is the General Federation of Trade Unions (GFTU). GFTU's continuing role in managing the state insurance system and its retention of previously existing official union headquarters and vacation facilities provide an inherent advantage over any potential organizers who might wish to form a union outside its structure. However, its industrial or branch unions are becoming more independent entities; they maintain that their membership in GFTU is voluntary and that they can withdraw if they wish. Virtually all employed adults are members of a union.

Government workers do not have the right to strike, nor do those in essential services such as health care and energy. Other unions may strike if two-thirds of the members vote for a strike in a secret ballot. There were several labor actions seeking payment of wage arrears, including a number of strikes by teachers in various parts of the country. High unemployment, both hidden and official, led to worker concern about job security.

Unions may affiliate and maintain contacts with international organizations. GFTU is currently negotiating membership in the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, and hopes to accede in 1997.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law, which is still based on former Soviet legislation, provides for collective bargaining rights. However, wages are set through a tripartite negotiation process involving government, management, and unions. On the national level, the three parties meet and negotiate national minimum wages for all categories of workers. Then, each branch union representing a particular industry negotiates with management and the government ministries responsible for that industry. They may set wages higher than the minimum set on the national level and often do, especially if the industry in question is more profitable than average. Finally, on the enterprise level, union and management representatives negotiate directly on wages. Again, they may set wages higher than had negotiators on the industry level.

There were no reports of actions taken against union members for union activities. The 1990 Soviet Law on Trade Unions provides that union leaders may not be fired from their jobs while in leadership positions or for a period after they leave those positions. This law has not been tested in Moldova.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced labor. No instances of it were reported.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum age for unrestricted employment is 18 years. Employment of those ages 16 to 18 is permitted under special conditions, including shorter workdays, no night shifts, and longer vacations. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is primarily responsible for enforcing these restrictions, and the Ministry of Health also has a role. Child labor is not used in industry, although children living on farms do sometimes assist in the agricultural sector.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is a legal minimum monthly wage of $4 (18 Moldovan lei), but this is used primarily as a basis for calculating fines. The average monthly wage of approximately $41 (184 Moldovan lei) does not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. Lowest wages are in the agricultural sector, where they average approximately $23 (102 Moldovan lei a month). Due to severe budgetary constraints, the Government and enterprises often do not meet payrolls for employees. The Constitution sets the maximum workweek at 40 hours, and the Labor Code provides for at least 1 day off per week.

The State is required to set and check safety standards in the workplace. The unions within GFTU also have inspection personnel who have a right to stop work in the factory or fine the enterprise if safety standards are not met. Further, workers have the right to refuse to work but may continue to draw their salaries if working conditions represent a serious threat to their health. In practice, however, the depressed economic situation has led enterprises to economize on safety equipment and generally to show less concern for worker safety issues. Workers often do not know their rights in this area.

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