EDITORIAL

Grievances!

The season of protest has started. Only the long winter prevented trade unions from taking to the streets earlier, to voice a multitude of inevitable grievances. But it was also inevitable for spring to eventually come. And the grievances get in the street, one after another, in public rallies that start peacefully, but nobody knows how they will end.


First were the teachers, joined by students, because of reasons that relate to the annexes of politics. Part of them obtained in court the right to higher salaries, under a law passed by the Parliament in 2008, but which has not been enforced ever since. The others – most of them – challenge the legal framework, and complain over small wages and the announced layoffs, which will deprive the Education system of 15,000 employees by September this year. They threaten they will boycott the school year and will not award school assessments to pupils in June.


The workers of the Bucharest subway operator have their own reasons to protest and obtained in court the right to go on strike as of this Thursday.


Next come the pensioners, who are unhappy over the way of calculating the pension point, the co-payment of medical services that will be enforced in the health system etc. They are followed by farmers, railroad workers (who might receive only part of their salaries for February) affected by the restructuring going on in their activity sector, with inevitable and massive layoffs. And the list continues.


The ‘Cartel Alfa’ trade unions federation was the first to move and staged a rally in front of the Government headquarters last week, to make sure authorities learn about their grievances. Premier Emil Boc barely escaped a snowball, which hit one of his bodyguards instead. This was a first sign that things are not simple at all, and if there still are officials taking this as a joke, then they must not have realized how serious things are. There is a clear decline of living standards. Most employees already lost their meal vouchers, gift vouchers, bonuses and premiums. If some may live with it, for others such extras made a substantial part of their monthly incomes. Add to this direct and indirect tax hikes, higher prices for transport, natural gas, electricity and foodstuff…


But even worse than the lower living standards are the worries about what tomorrow will bring. Unemployment is on the rise and already reached 8.3 pc in February. Two thirds of the new jobless come from the private economy. Yet, the most vocal in voicing their complaints are the state sector employees, who are in the best position to make it hard for authorities to operate layoffs in the public sector. Things are not at all easy for the government. In order to meet the conditions agreed with the IMF, it must curb public spending… On the other hand, layoffs and an increased number of jobless are bad news for the economy, as there are less and less taxpayers in the system. Even now, 4 million employees support over six million pensioners. How will authorities find money for public salaries and pensions, which both rely upon the number of jobs in the


Economy?!


Against this background come the confrontation with trade unions and the street protests, in general. Any increase of salaries and pensions must be justified only by productivity, but the government is put under a precisely opposite pressure, aimed at increasing salaries and pensions only based on laws passed amateurishly by legislators, without being founded on a coherent economic analysis. This is the source of a conflict that is hard to mediate and will have no beneficial result.


Either way, it is the unionists who will lose, most likely. If the government does not yield to pressure, they will see their salaries further going down and the uncertainty about tomorrow ramping up. If the executive makes concessions, this will only weaken the reforms agreed with the IMF, will result in higher deficits and will force the country to take even more loans abroad. Eventually, it is still the taxpayer who will pay the price. Premier Emil Boc will probably be the target of choice for trade unions, because many things have accumulated during the last year and there will be much to complain about.


Pensioners have their own share of grievances to tell, on condition there is anyone willing to listen. The society’s solidarity with them is questionable, though sooner or later everyone will enter this social category. The state is incapable of enforcing the law that sets pensions depending to points calculated based on the minimum salary. Budget incomes are low and the deficit of social insurances is high, so authorities wish to enforce another approach, which is clearly opposed by pensioners. Despite their opposition, it is still hard to believe they will win. The economic downturn – we all can feel, but the government did too little to counter it – has dramatically reduced the possibilities to support pensioners. These days, the minister of the Economy, Adriean Videanu even came with a cynical solution to the problem: those who wish bigger pensions, should subscribe more to private pensions. (!) We would like to ask the minister how could the large mass of employees do this, given they earn monthly salaries of RON 1000-1200. But the question would be useless. Anyway, more and more people are questioning the purpose of contributing to the pension fund. Employees – and their employers – are paying for their whole active lives (about 40 years) 31 pc of the monthly salary as contribution to this fund, but when the time comes, towards the end of their lives, they can notice that the ridiculous sum they receive is enough to just keep them barely alive. Then, why shouldn’t they get in the street?

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