Thursday, July 9, 2009

Romanian judges to protest against bonus cuts

BUCHAREST, July 8 (Reuters) - Romanian judges plan to close courts for three hours a day from Thursday to protest against pay cuts, adding pressure on the Bucharest government's efforts to contain spending and meet IMF loan conditions.

The new European Union state's judiciary is already a weak part of its administration, blamed for delays, incompetence and corruption, and seen as a major concern in Brussels.Bucharest's centre-left cabinet faces an uphill battle to cut spending, in a move to contain the budget deficit below 4.6 percent of GDP, a key requirement of the International Monetary Fund in the 20 billion euro financing deal secured in March.

As part of planned spending cuts, the government has slashed a number of bonuses paid to its administration staff, while freezing public sector wages. For judges, it scrapped a bonus for stress at the workplace, worth half of their net wages.But Justice Minister Catalin Predoiu and magistrates have said repeatedly that ill-equipped courts and low wages pose an obstacle to justice reforms.

"Tomorrow (Thursday) we will suspend activity for three hours ... and the protest will be held across the entire country," said Mona Pivniceru, president of the Romanian Magistrates Association. "Protests will continue (every day).""A stress bonus or a job bonus...is a person's pay (right) and no one is allowed to cut it," she said.The stress bonus is worth 50 percent of the net wage, which ranges between 4,000 and 5,000 lei ($1,650). Without it, judges still earn bonuses totalling up to 85 percent of the net wage.

The average wage in the Romanian economy was 1,356 lei in May.The justice minister was quoted as saying by state news agency Agerpres that the protest was "illegal" and that he will try to solve the conflict by meeting magistrates to show them the limits of the ministry's budget."I think not all magistrates understand the gravity of the financial crisis we are going through," Predoiu said.The European Commission is still monitoring progress of fresh EU members Romania and Bulgaria in fighting corruption and is set to publish a report this summer. (Reporting by Ioana Patran; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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