The Global State of Workers' Rights - Romania

Mostly Free

Workers in Romania have the legal right to establish and join trade unions, and at least five countrywide union confederations operate largely without government interference. Some categories of state employees are not permitted to join unions, including prison and law enforcement personnel, defense ministry and intelligence workers, judges, prosecutors, and high-ranking government officials. Antiunion discrimination is illegal, but some employers have formed management-friendly unions, used intimidation and misinformation, or required new hires to agree not to join a union in order to prevent worker organization. Penalties for antiunion activities by private employers are weak and poorly enforced.

While less than half of the workforce is unionized, nearly all workers are covered by collective-bargaining contracts, whether at the unit level or through four-year national agreements negotiated by the government, employers' associations, and trade unions. However, contracts are often violated by employers, and enforcement and penalties are not robust. Low official wage levels, which have attracted foreign companies in recent years, are frequently supplemented by bonuses and informal payments, but these have reportedly receded amid the current economic downturn, leaving the affected workers with little recourse.

The right to strike is protected by law, though the same categories of workers that may not form unions are generally barred from striking, and workers in essential services like transportation, utilities, and education are obliged to maintain one-third of normal operations during strikes. Moreover, would-be strikers must exhaust all means of conciliation and provide 48 hours' notice before a walkout, which cannot be launched for political reasons. A majority of workers at the relevant enterprise must support the strike, and strikes lasting more than 20 days may be subject to binding arbitration. Unions responsible for strikes that are deemed illegal can be forced to pay financial damages.

Despite these legal restrictions, state employees vigorously protested planned cuts to public-sector jobs and salaries in 2009, as the government sought to meet the conditions of a financial aid package from international donors. Strikes and street protests were mounted during the year by subway and railroad workers, teachers, police, health care staff, prison guards, and even judges. One strike action in October reportedly involved about half of the country's 1.4 million public-sector employees. In many cases the workers were demanding pay increases in addition to the retention of their jobs, as inflation and the weakening national currency were threatening their standard of living.

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