The EESC Workers’ Group held an extraordinary meeting in Bucharest, Romania, focusing on Labour Rights and Social Convergence: a Europe of Common Values. Opening the meeting, Oliver Röpke, President of the Workers' Group, congratulated the Romanian Presidency particularly for concluding several files which were important to improving working people’s lives such as the establishment of the European Labour Authority and the directives on work-life balance and transparent and predictable working conditions.
In his keynote speech, Marius-Constantin Budăi, Minister of Labour and Social Justice, said that he was proud of Romania’s achievements during its first EU Presidency. He said that Romania had had high ambitions and that these had been realised to a large extent. He said that Romania had demonstrated its strong belief in European values, which it had tried to promote and strengthen during the Presidency. He also stressed that economic convergence was needed and, particularly, that the pay gap between western and eastern countries had to be reduced.
Participants went on to discuss the key challenges regarding labour mobility, employment and convergence of social rights in the European Union. Several speakers referred to the European Pillar of Social Rights which, if properly implemented, could lead to upward convergence. The leaders of the four Romanian trade union confederations highlighted the employment and social challenges in Romania, notably high poverty levels, low wages, problems regarding collective bargaining and the social dialogue, and high levels of emigration. They particularly stressed the need to re-establish a proper framework for collective bargaining, which has been devastated following government reforms in 2011 meaning that there are now very few collective agreements in Romania.
Bogdan Iuliu Hossu, President of CARTEL ALFA, highlighted that two out of the five million Romanian workers are on the minimum wage and drew attention to pension and social security reforms which had shifted the responsibility for social protection away from companies onto workers. On the issue of labour mobility, Sorin Bărăscu, President of CNSLR-Fratia, said that it is instrumental for the European Union, contributing to economic growth and helping to address skills and other gaps. However, he also explained that three million Romanians had emigrated over the past 10 years in search of better living conditions and the loss of too many skilled and qualified people can have a detrimental impact on the sending countries in the longer term. Marian Stoicescu from MERIDIAN National Trade Union Confederation wants Romania to learn from Member States with a strong model of collective bargaining and social dialogue and stressed the importance of collective bargaining in order to secure better wages for Romanian workers. Sabin Rusu, Secretary General of CSDR Democratic Trade Union Confederation of Romania, welcomed the discussion on the importance of improving convergence on employment, social rights and labour mobility. Making the link with the future of work, he said better preparation was required to address the changes taking place in the labour market, including developing the right legislative framework to ensure all workers - notably those working on digital platforms - are protected. Trade unions have a key role to play and should also do more to organise workers engaged in new forms of work. Using the example of a project with the German Trade Union Confederation, Dumitru Costin, President of BNS The National Trade Unions Block, stressed the importance of co-operation between trade unions in host and sending countries which can help to identify problems that foreign workers are experiencing in the host country and also help unions in their home country to provide posted workers with relevant information about wages and conditions before they are posted.
Members also had an opportunity to share initial reflections on the results of the recent European elections with Luca Visentini, General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), who said that on the positive side there had been an increased turn out in those voting and the far-right parties had not had the level of success they had wanted. However, he recognised that the new European Parliament would be more fragmented and that trade unions would need to work with all progressive parties to advance the interests of working people. He emphasised the need to rebuild the social contract, destroyed during the crisis, and that this was strongly linked with democracy and the rule of law, which also needed strengthening. As a first concrete initiative, the ETUC was calling for a framework directive to support collective bargaining and minimum wages.