The increasingly frequent and pressing bad news for the public has managed to rattle the Romanians’ collective consciousness and, what’s more, to divide the Romanian people. The very fact that Romania has around 5 million pensioners and only about 4 million employees working legally could well give rise to a psychological war. Because Romanians’ pensions on average are one fifth or sixth of the average pension offered by Western EU-Member States, the elderly are blaming the younger generations of evading work and deepening the pension fund deficit. In turn, the youths claim there are too many pensioners, many of whom should not even be benefitting from pensions. TV shows are full to the brim of such discouraging news, and both pensioners and employees / the unemployed are right to be dissatisfied.
The political elements are seen as the main culprits for the perpetual economic and social crisis Romania has been facing for some time, primarily because they try to conceal the real significance of the ever more painful drama experienced by the majority of the population.
For instance, they seemingly “justify” the small number of employees who contribute to the country’s social and economic activity by referring to the increase of the emigration rate within the last ten years. Portrayed as the exercise of the right to free movement and the result of “a desire for the better,” emigration is painted as having a positive impact on Romania’s “development.” Moreover, as soon as they gain access to making government decisions, political parties suddenly seem to agree with their predecessors that unemployment levels in Romania are lower than in other EU countries. And yet these “lower unemployment levels” constitute another form of government concealment – unemployment only characterizes the period in which welfare is granted; after this period, the respective unemployed person is no longer deemed unemployed, even though they still do not have a job. The category of the population most often and visibly affected by the attempt to conceal unemployment is youths aged 35 to 38, regardless of their professional training.
Rural areas are confronted with a grimmer situation which no one seems to be interested in. Many young people work the farmland with their parents, but their personal income and time spent do not differ from that of the unemployed because most families own very small land properties. Given such modest areas of workable land, youths are not eligible for welfare, which explains the migration of the labor force and the increase in black-market activities so characteristic of Romania’s rural areas. This phenomenon can also be held accountable for the plummeting demographic index.
In other EU Member States likewise affected by the economic and social crisis, unemployment usually drops in summertime. The demand for labor force increases as more and more people are needed in construction work, farm work, and many other sectors. Therefore, migration levels go up exponentially in Western countries during summer. The exact opposite happens in Romania, unfortunately. Unemployment goes through the roof in the summer, thus increasing the number of young emigrants, in particular. Why? Because of the wave of fresh high-school and college graduates. In the summer of 2013, for example, around 20,000 new jobs were available for over 150,000 high-school and college graduates.
These graduates are defenseless on the labor market and even their potential affiliation with unions is contingent on having a pre-existing job. In order to be granted a job nowadays, youths are required to have a minimum of practical experience in the respective field, in addition to holding a degree. It comes to follow that pupils and students who have recently graduated can hardly have acquired the necessary practice. The traditional internships which Politechnic students, for instance, would undergo automatically on a yearly basis are no longer possible, as all the Romanian industrial enterprises that were open to the idea of formal internships and actually provided students with such opportunities have ceased to exist.
Difficulties become more acute once the welfare period expires. With no sort of help at their disposal, the unemployed are forced to take up jobs on the black market which offer feeble wages in exchange for 10 or 12 hours of work. All this adds to tax evasion and corruption levels. To combat tax evasion from illegal work, Romanian government officials resort to cutting back employers’ taxes. The measure itself could be perceived as an incentive, but what employers need to bear in mind is that providing illegal work is a criminal charge, precisely because illegal workers undermine the national economy and put legal employees at a disadvantage. The national economy will never prosper so long as its citizens work illegally. These damaging practices may appear to be working temporarily, when in reality they are only camouflaging a series of major economic and social contradictions which will blow up sooner or later.
Romania’s ruling power – regardless of the political affiliation of its members – is only saved by the lack of cohesion among unions, despite abounding and harsh economic and social contradictions and increasingly frequent protests. Threats with indefinite general strike are quickly and tacitly being replaced by limited protests, many of which no longer meet the required number of demonstrators. The unionist movement is being discredited primarily due to union leaders turned owners. In giving their consent to fraudulent privatizations of important industrial plants, union leaders are working hand in hand with the government officials who have helped them line up their pockets by taking part in these privatizations. From representatives of the least advantaged employees, union leaders become “collaborators” of the members of the ruling power.
Consequently, we find ourselves in a situation in which some of these union leaders limit themselves to claiming slightly higher pay, but make no attempt to stop or at least reduce the number of layoffs. Some leaders have actually accepted or advocated for layoffs in exchange for a bump in the pay of remaining employees. Under such circumstances, the unionist movement became more divided and the Romanian labor market more impoverished, as many employees are currently paid below the average national wage level. Another consequence was the measure imposed by the former Boc Gov’t, which minimized the importance of collective work contracts and the employees’ possibility to defend themselves.
The ultimate tragicomic paradox of this congruence of factors is that the only way for government officials to save face in case of a general strike is not by eliminating social discrimination, but by appealing to the “wisdom of union leaders,” wisdom which stems from their large fortunes, among the largest in Romania. In the meantime, unemployment continues to wreak havoc among the common Romanian citizens, unseen behind the government’s mask. While it may be recognized as one of the fundamental human rights, the right to work has become a tragicomic mask.