The dramas that hit the Romanians are so frequent and serious that they generate the illusion that such occurrence cannot surprise anymore. Yet, of late, human suffering takes more and more the shape of real slavery. This is precisely what has been recently discovered at a farm of Giurgiu County, where an interloper has been using, for a long time, the forced labour of several illegal workers. His remote farm in the middle of a field, without roads or means of communication, was surrounded by a compact metal fence, 3 metres high, which blocked even the eyesight. Several desperate jobless were hired for this real labour camp, using the most attractive promises. However, upon reaching the farm, they were locked and forced to work as much as 12-14 hours a day. It was a terrible ordeal for these illegal workers, beaten, starved and threatened to be killed if they tried to escape this slave pen.
The salvation came from a younger “slave” who was able to escape, covered in blood, as he hurt his body in the sharp thorns of the metal fence, and eventually called the police. The police thus learned about something it should have been aware of since long time ago. But the interlopers, who own farms and other properties, apparently are in friendly terms with some policemen, who turn a blind eye and allow them to reap big profits.
How are such cases of forced labour, of slavery, possible in the 21st Century AD? Behind the regional causes of these tragedies lie ever deeper economic-social and political deficits that favour tragedies which cannot even be imagined in other countries. For Romania, the most serious and widespread such deficit is endemic poverty. And it is precisely this type of poverty that fuels the illegal labour phenomenon, as well as violence, robberies, human trafficking and many other dramas and tragedies. Chaotic decentralisation, fraudulent privatisations, abusive reclaims of properties, the often removal of lands from the productive circuit – all these factors contribute to the diminishing of jobs and the increase of unemployment. I mean the real unemployment, not the official figures announced by authorities, which only take into account those who still collect unemployment benefits. While the official figures remain relatively stable, the real unemployment advances, forcing more Romanians into deep poverty. The layoffs, which continue overtly or dissimulated under various names, are advertised as antidote to the economic crisis which keeps Romania in its grip. Yet, it is precisely such aberrant measures that worsen the economic crisis, because they lower the production and cut deep into the funds needed to pay unemployment benefits and pensions, turning the hope for saving money into a mere illusion. Adding to this, many of the decisions aimed at staff layoffs are reverted by courts, putting even more pressure on the thin state budget.
Another factor that favour illegal labour is the tragedy of poverty, which is in continuous expansion because of the same economic crisis. Even in present-day conditions, without the criminal occurrences specific to the aforementioned case of slavery, illegal workers are still forced to work 12 hours a day. And even this extended activity, which is not paid as it should, goes on under the threat of losing the job the next day, if the employee does not promptly execute the orders of the employer. Under this pressure, illegal labour favours work accidents, which often are unaccounted for, because they are hidden in various ways, with the responsibility falling upon victims, rather than the bad working conditions. This turned illegal labour into the top scourge of the Romanian labour market.
Delinquency, including the juvenile one, today reaches a peak in the whole modern history of Romania. Also because former inmates, even if they are skilled workers, are rarely offered a regular job, so they must resort to illegal labour. Many youths find themselves in this category, people whose dramatic destiny was also decided by the fact that their parents were forced by the endemic poverty to emigrate in search of a job. Leaving their children in the care of old and poor relatives, demoralised and ill, incapable to educate these abandoned children. And many of these youths abandon school and their condition of illiterates pushes them towards the slaughterhouses of illegal labour for minors. Criminal interlopers, the kind of those described at the beginning of this column, lure more and more such minors, which they ruthlessly abuse. Some even transfer them outside Romania, especially the girls, but boys, too, are forced into prostitution. Unfortunately, the endemic poverty affects not only the uneducated people, but also many of those who have a solid education. If, for instance, unemployment can be understood as possible in a time of severe economic and social problems, layoffs among state employees must be operated in accordance with personal skills. One cannot exclusively use numbers and quantity as criteria for redundancies; one must also take professional value into account. Unfortunately, this elementary economic requirement cannot be found in the action of the decision-maker. Layoffs are operated using the usual, quantitative criterion. Because of this, high-school and university graduates hold a bigger proportion in the total number of jobless than their share of the total population. Plus, the money which could be thus saved to the budget is lost in the concomitant wage increases offered to political clientele. For example, the salaries of the chiefs successively appointed to Posta Romana, exclusively on clientele-related criteria, by the parties that ruled over Romania, increased while the institution was heading to bankruptcy.
Another generator of big social discrepancies is the flawed way in which the quasi-totality of Romanian governments conceive the so-called flexibility of the labour market. The very notion of flexibility has a bivalent character, so it can only be achieved within equilibrium between the interests of employers and those of employees. This balance must favour the equality of chances, the complementarity of efforts, with evenly distributed rights and obligations. The absence of this equilibrium generates discrimination. If the employer has more rights than the employee, the social equilibrium is broken the crisis – also the economic one – deepens. As we can see, this happens in Romania every day.