IMF and EC Apply Behind-the-Scenes Pressure on Romania to Halt the Restoration of Core Labour Rights

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Commission (EC) are pressuring Romania’s government behind closed doors to prevent it from correcting provisions of a social dialogue law adopted in 2011, which contravenes internationally recognised core labour rights.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) strongly condemns the two institutions for pressing the government to adopt measures inconsistent with international standards.

“Pressure by the IMF and EC on the Romanian government to prevent it from correcting violations of core labour standards is absolutely shameful,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow. “The law was adopted last year under IMF pressure. It eroded protections against anti-union discrimination, abolished collective bargaining at the national level and made sector level bargaining virtually impossible. After the steep economic decline the country suffered in 2008, labour market ‘reforms’ pushed by the IMF and EC in Romania and across Europe have only made the situation for workers more intolerable.”

The IMF and European Commission staff concluded a joint visit to Romania on 14 November to review the government’s progress in implementing measures called for in a standby agreement. Negotiations on a new lending agreement with the two institutions will likely begin in January, according to a Romanian government official.

The ITUC has obtained a copy of a detailed not-for-publication joint EC and IMF document that pressures the Romanian government not to adopt a decree that is intended to correct measures/provisions that are inconsistent with core labour standards.
The decree is intended to correct flawed provisions in the country’s social dialogue law. The document, Joint Comments of European Commission and IMF Staff on the Draft Emergency Ordinance to Amend Law 62/2011 on Social Dialogue, has been reviewed by IMF headquarters staff, who acknowledge its authenticity.

The government is amending Romania’s social dialogue law because provisions of the law adopted in 2011 are in violation of International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, which contain internationally recognised labour standards ratified by Romania. The ILO has repeatedly urged the government to bring the social dialogue law into compliance with ILO Convention 98, on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining, one of its eight core labour rights conventions.

In the document obtained by the ITUC, the EC and IMF pressure the authorities “to ensure that national collective labour agreements do not contain elements related to wages”. This is inconsistent with Article 4 of ILO Convention 98, which holds that governments should not enact measures to restrict the scope of negotiable issues in such labour agreements.

The EC and IMF also pressure the government to limit the number of persons who are to be protected from anti-union discrimination or retaliatory firing “to an appropriate number and timeframe”. This contravenes Article 1 of ILO Convention 98, which provides that all workers should be protected against acts of discrimination or dismissal due to their union membership or participation in union activities. Protections against discrimination should not be limited only to a union’s “elected and appointed representatives”, and the EC and IMF should not seek to limit the numbers of person enjoying such protection.

Moreover, the government decree proposes amending certain articles (Articles 183, 186, 202, 205) of the social dialogue law that regulate strikes. Instead of urging the government to bring these provisions into compliance with ILO conventions, the EC and IMF press the government in the document to limit the ability to lawfully strike. The two institutions state, “We are concerned about loosening procedures in the existing legislation that are intended to avoid the proliferation of strikes.”

This is a serious concern given that the existing provisions in law covering solidarity strikes (Article 186), stipulating which public officials are prohibited from calling strikes (Article 202), and requirements for which union members may call a strike in the private sector (Article 205) are inconsistent with ILO Conventions and with provisions in international human rights law related to freedom of association.

The Law on Social Dialogue 62 of 2011 was adopted in May 2011 by a centre-right government that imposed harsh austerity measures after the severe economic downturn the country suffered in 2008-09. Since the law’s adoption, it has made collective bargaining so difficult that no sector-level agreement has been concluded. Firm-level collective bargaining has also declined drastically. In May, a new centre-left government headed by Prime Minister Victor Ponta took office, which has since attempted to restore labour rights.

The social dialogue law as adopted in 2011 abolished collective bargaining at the national level and eliminated the automatic extension of collective agreements to non-signatory parties, according to the ILO. The law also increased the minimum number of workers necessary for the formation of a trade union, raised the threshold of trade unions’ representation for the conclusion of collective agreements and relaxed the conditions for dismissal of trade unions’ representatives.

See the the IMF-EC recommendations on labour law reforms