The implications of illegal labour

Road accidents are so serious and frequent that they become front page news each day, also because the most severe of them are caused not only by the poor state of roads, but especially to drivers’ lack of professionalism and civility. Some of them cannot even be called drivers, because they don’t have a driving license. There are many examples of such people, especially young and irresponsible, arrogant and lacking a basic education. Thus, the frequency of road accidents is directly connected to illiteracy, hidden behind state-of-the-art automobiles that often fall prey to their irresponsible – sometimes even criminal – users. This was the case of a recent accident that occurred near Tulcea, which claimed 7 lives and injured even more victims. A 21 year old irresponsible youth attempted a reckless overtaking and rammed two other vehicles, one of which broke in two and exploded.

Overshadowed by the frequent traffic accidents, labour accidents are relegated to the backstage by the media, although they often are even more severe than road crashes. This situation results from the fact that the practice of illegal labour soars in times of crisis. Illegal workers must work as much as 12 hours a day, under the threat that they might be fired as soon as they do not comply with their employers’ orders. The pressure of black labour thus hugely increases, which explain the increased frequency of labour accidents, which often pass unnoticed also because they are dissimulated by the most ingenious methods, also meant to lay the blame upon the victim, instead of the employer. This is what turned illegal labour into the main scourge of Romania’s labour market.The adoption of the acting Labour Code had as implicit purpose uncovering and combating illegal labour, especially as in Romania, the extent and subterfuges of this practice are wider and more perfidious than in other countries. This explains why in our country, at times when layoffs reach a peak, the unemployment rate unexpectedly drops. As a first measure of the new Labour Code, authorities decided that Police and Financial Guard will step up their controls aimed at uncovering cases of illegal labour. Indeed, shortly after this, the number of legal labour contracts increased and taxes started being paid. But, after a promising debut, the process lost momentum. A main reason for this decline was another measure taken by the government, which despite being well-intended, was poorly correlated with the real state of facts. This was about the massive layoffs operated during the past years by Police and Financial Guard.As a consequence, labour verifications gradually declined in terms of both frequency and immediate efficiency. Under the pressure of layoffs and wage cuts, what policeman or tax inspector will risk his personal integrity in controls that often get dangerous, knowing that he might soon lose his regular job and seek a new one precisely with the big sponsors of illegal work he is asked to investigate now? As we can see, combating illegal work can turn into its opposite, implicitly promoting corruption, when the measures taken by the government lack a vision and are negated by other measures, which in turn lack a complementary and anticipative character. Given the lack of correlative and anticipative thinking specific to the Romanian politician, we frequently see administrative measures that are well intended, but soon turn into their opposite. Despite pretending to oppose the crisis which caught Romania in its grasp, eventually these isolated and poorly correlated measures end by aggravating this crisis.Unfortunately, the bad correlation of the adopted measures generates other problems too. It is known that an increase of unemployment cannot be the only solution in combating economic crises, as pretended by authorities. However, if one can still understand unemployment as acceptable during very difficult times, layoffs must be made with value-related criteria in mind. One cannot make someone redundant only to reach the desired figure, because one must also take into consideration the value, the professional contribution of that employee, because an economic crisis can be overcome only by increasing the quality of work. Unfortunately, authorities only rarely prove that they are aware of this basic economic and social principle. In Romania, layoffs are often made following a strictly numeric criterion. Moreover, the money which might be saved from such measures is often lost on tacitly operated salary increases and bonuses granted to employees favoured by their superiors. The wages of the chiefs appointed to state-run postal operator Posta Romana – people faithful to the ruling party – were increased, although the company is nearing bankruptcy. This explains the large-scale social protests staged these days by postal employees.Governments – regardless of their political affiliation –justified layoffs through the need to save money, as explained in previous columns here. Some of them also invoke the imperative of modernising the system. These are logical arguments, which however are frequently undermined precisely by the illogical interventions of the government. It is well known that an optimum budget balance is achieved mainly through increased output and consumption that brings taxes, rather than by cutting salaries or operating layoffs. This increase of production and consumption – also in terms of quality – preponderantly requires high-quality labour. But, in our country, highly skilled employees are the first to be made redundant, which also explains the fact that people with medium and higher education form the bulk of the jobless registered with labour offices, with a percentage much superior to their proportion in the total workforce of Romania. Furthermore, as state institutions and companies are deeply politicised, the exponents of ruling parties keep their jobs (also with ministries), although they do not always possess the skills needed for these jobs.Another issue where contradictory decisions are frequently encountered through the years is the way authorities conceive the idea of increasing the flexibility of the labour market. It is known that flexibility has a bivalent character, hence it can only be achieved in the context of balancing the interests of employers with those of employees. This balance should favour the equality of chances, the complimentarily of efforts, with rights and obligations evenly distributed upon the two sides of the equation. The lack of this equilibrium generates discrimination. If the employer has more power than the employee, the social balance breaks, and illegal labour appears – though well dissimulated. Doing overtime, without being paid, under the permanent threat of being fired equates working illegally, no matter how well masked this kind of labour is.Such contradictory solutions lay at the basis of our power factors. This is why many of their actions aimed at combating the crisis actually make things worse and deepen the crisis in Romania.

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