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March 23, 2023

Assuming the discord

The Government will assume today, in the Parliament, its responsibility over three packages of laws which, at first sight, seem to be of utmost importance. Yet, none of them is so urgent to require the fast procedure of assuming the responsibility and, on the other hand, they are all prone to spark the animosity between social categories. It is obvious that the chosen procedure targets – according to analysts – the fulfillment of goals set in the negotiations with the IMF, along with keeping a so-called electoral promise. The latter goal even takes maximum precedence in light of the closing start of the campaign for the presidential elections, and explains the haste of promoting the package of laws through ‘emergency procedure,’ even though the single law on salaries can still be corrected until June 30, 2010.

This Sunday and Monday, the Government analyzed hundreds of amendments submitted by MPs and accepted some 5 pc of them, as if the laws were due to come into effect right now.

Assuming the responsibility over the legal packages has a ‘pervert’ consequence, we might say. This is not about the possibility of toppling the Emil Boc cabinet through a non-confidence vote – a most unlikely development, given the attitude of the two parties that form the ruling coalition. As they were drafted, the laws generate unwanted tensions between professional categories from the state sector (the education law and the blanket wage law), but also between civil servants and private employees. The salary table gives most headaches, because it stratifies – based on coefficients – the various professions and maximal possibilities to earn incomes. It is obvious that each professional category considers itself important, even irreplaceable in the social and economic system. Through the coefficients it enforces, the new law shows that magistrates and civil servants are more important than teachers, doctors, a.s.o. This was a clear recipe for tensions. The trade unions from the education system threaten with general strike and protests. “We now have a law that leads to national discord, rather than bring stability and coherence to Romania’s wage system,” said the president of the Federation of Free Trade Unions from the Education Sector (FSLI), Aurel Cornea. Even supposing that the laws will pass, enforcing them will stir new unrest. All civil servants feel they are wronged by the level of incomes and seek more security, more rights and more privileges. However, under the incessant “stimulus” of union leaders, they all forget the economy can only give as much. It is easy for union leaders to demand, because it’s not their money at stake and they come with no new ideas; they simply pressure the Government to pay state employees better, even though the economy fell by 8 pc against last year. This is the effect of negotiations over the wage table. Instead of postponing any talk on salaries until the moment when the economy will recover, the Government found it fit to open Pandora’s box right now.

Finance Minister Gheorghe Pogea recently said that, by year 2015 civil servants’ salaries will be about one third higher than those from the private sector. Though I am no expert in the European wage system, I still find this tendency odd at least, as jobs in the private sector usually are better paid – but also more demanding – than those in the state sector. With such views, which favor the state sector, it is no wonder that the private sector chokes under the burden of paying – through taxes and dues – the salaries of a civil servants’ class whose demands increase each day. We witness a reversing of values that is both shocking and dangerous.

Magistrates seem to be the spearhead of claims in the public sector. They protest for higher bonuses and incomes, comparing themselves with their European colleagues and evoking the stress factor and the inadequate work conditions. All of these are false criteria. The evoked European colleagues have the salaries their respective states can provide; there is no universal salary for judges or prosecutors, at European level, provided by the European Commission, for instance. The insufficient endowment is only a pretext, as it all boils down to personal incomes. Still, there is no word about performance. Justice is under monitoring from Brussels and remains a sector that provoked the permanent criticism of the European Commission. TV news present many cases of people who committed criminal acts and were set free by judges, in spite of overwhelming evidence against them. Sentences are postponed time after time and nobody takes the responsibility – magistrates are independent, this is the universal excuse.

Teachers too are vocal, even though they might have more justifications for it, given their much smaller salaries than those of magistrates. They let themselves cheated with the electoral promises of 2008 about raising their incomes by 50 pc, and now they live in permanent frustration. Their union leaders have seen the wage table proposed by Government and now thunder with rage because the Education personnel was left at bottom. Yet, unionists forget that most teachers have more holidays than working days and they only work a few hours a day. In terms of work/hour, the salary is even high, some would say.

The truly sensitive sector is that of the health sector, which suffers from lack of equipment, medicines and – more recently – sanitary personnel with higher and average education. This is obviously the most underprivileged sector, with the lowest wages. But even here, incomes seem small only if we don’t look at the attitude of a part of its personnel. Romanians say it is better that you don’t need to go to hospital or dispensary… But why do they say so?

Next follow the civil servants, the employees from ministries etc. While public employees demand in high voice, the private sector pays the money used by the Romanian state to finance the whole system. Private employees have no guarantees against losing their job, their salaries don’t keep increasing and they can only hope that they will catch with the level of public wages sometimes in the future. Most of them don’t have bonuses for stress, foreign languages, overtime etc. And here we do not refer to the employees of multinationals, even though most tend to use them first in any comparison. Here we refer to the average worker, toiling hard for a salary, always at risk of losing his job and depending from the employer. If the firm goes bankrupt, he will find himself jobless in no time.

The Government’s assuming of responsibility brings a discord that is totally unwelcome, especially at times of economic downturn. As we said, this will turn the various categories of public employees against each other, while also stirring the discord between the personnel of the public and private sectors. This cabinet now really has a reason to be proud: no matter what its fate will be, it leaves behind “an inciting subject of debate”…

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