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Trade Unions

Union density is relatively high in Romania with between a third and a half of all employees in unions, although the figures are very uncertain. The structures are fragmented, with five separate confederations, CNSLR-Frăţia, BNS, CSDR, CNS Cartel Alfa and Meridian, each with a substantial number of affiliated federations.

There are probably between two million and two-and-a-half million trade unionists in Romania, although the figures are not precise. As a result estimates of trade union density vary. The unions estimate current density at 48% to 50%, while a study published by the employers association UGIR-1903 in 2005 calculated that 44% of employees were union members in 2002.1 However, the ICTWSS database of union membership gives a lower figure, putting union density in Romania at 32.8% in 2008.2 This is still above the EU average but is below the current estimate from EIRO, which puts union density at 40%.3

There are currently five main union confederations and there are no precise figures on their membership. CNSLR- Frăţia, which states on its website it has more than 800,000 members, is certainly one of the largest. It developed from a merger of the former official trade union movement (CNSLR) with another confederation (Frăţia) in 1990. CNS Cartel Alfa, which was set up in 1990, is another major union confederation. An EIRO report on trade union membership, estimated that it had 400,000 members in 2008.4 However, Cartel Alfa disputes this, and its website states that it has one million members. The EIRO report places BNS, which had its founding congress in 1991, in third place in membership terms, with 375,000 members in 2008, although in 2013 its website stated that it had around 320,000 members. CSDR, which emerged after a split in CNSLR-Frăţia in 1994, appears to be the next largest; the EIRO report estimated its membership at 345,000 members in 2008. And the smallest of the five, with around 170,000 members in 2008, according to the EIRO report, is CSN Meridian, set up in 1994.

These five confederations are all classed as representative at national level, giving them the right to be members of the National Tripartite Council, for Social Dialogue, the CNTDS, which brings together the unions, employers and the government (plus the national bank). Nationally representative unions also have the right to be members of the Economic and Social Council, the CES, which includes representatives of civil society, as well as unions and employers (see section on collective bargaining). In order to be classed as nationally representative, a union confederation must have at least 5% of all employees in membership and have a territorial structure in more than half of Romania’s administrative districts. These rules were changed in 2011, when the requirement to have membership in a quarter of the country’s economic sectors was removed. This was part of the extensive changes included in the Social Dialogue Act (see section on collective bargaining for more details).

The divisions between the confederations are in part political – CNSLR-Frăţia signed a formal cooperation agreement with the social democratic party PSD in 2008, while the BNS has also had links with the PSD in the past. Cartel Alfa’s approach is based on a Christian democratic philosophy, although it emphasises that is “totally independent of government or political groups”. There are also some industrial differences, with individual confederations being stronger in some industries than others.

All the confederations have large numbers of industry federations affiliated to them. CNSLR-Frăţia has 38 affiliated industry federations; Cartel Alfa has 50 plus five associated organisations; BNS 40; Meridian 29 plus three associates; and CSDR 20. There are also some union federations not affiliated to the five main confederations. The federations themselves typically bring together large numbers of small unions, which often only cover a single employer. (Unions can be set up by a minimum of 15 people working for the same employer.) One of the consequences of this is that unions are fragmented with competition for membership and local unions will sometimes move from one federation to another .

There have been two recent attempts to establish a more unified structure for the majority of Romania’s trade unionists.

In 2007 three of the five confederations – CNRLR-Frăţia, BNS and Meridian – announced that they had agreed to form a new joint alliance. However, although there were hopes that this might in time lead to a merger, in practice no progress was made. The second attempt was at the end of 2011 when BNS announced that it wanted to create a new union structure. Talks were started with both CNRLR-Frăţia and Cartel Alfa, although CNRLR-Frăţia rapidly withdrew. In 2012 BNS and Cartel Alfa announced that they planned to merge in 2013 but these plans were abandoned before the end of the year.

Unions are, however, able to cooperate. All five confederations have acted together to protest against the government’s austerity plans and in opposition to the 2011 Social Dialogue Act (see section on collective bargaining).

Overall trade union membership in Romania has declined since the beginning of the 1990s as the economic role of the state has been cut back and unions’ functions have changed. However, a survey by the European Foundation in 2005 found that the confederations were optimistic about future membership growth.5

One significant feature about trade unionism in Romania is that there have been higher levels of membership in industry than in public administration. The 2005 employers’ association study found that, in 2002, trade union density was at 85% in extractive industries, 83% in the metalworking industry, and 76% in the chemicals industry, compared with only 30% in public administration.6 However, this probably reflects the fact that it was only in 2003 that many of those working in the public sector with the status of a public servant (funcţionarul public) gained the right to join a union without further authorisation. A later report produced by the European Foundation found unions reporting that their membership was declining in industry, while it was increasing in the public sector.7

L. Fulton (2013) Worker representation in Europe. Labour Research Department and ETUI. Produced with the assistance of the SEEurope Network, online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.