Thursday, May 27, 2010

Romanian unions plan one-day general strike in June

By Radu Marinas

BUCHAREST, May 26 (Reuters) - Romanian trade unions plan a one-day general strike next month when parliament debates wage and pension cuts as agreed under a 20 billion euro ($25 billion) IMF-led aid deal, a union leader said on Wednesday.

Unions hope a million Romanians will support the strike, which aims to put pressure on policymakers to soften austerity measures in the EU's second-poorest country, and also backed a series of other stoppages by state employees.

Prime Minister Emil Boc said his cabinet would approve a letter of intent to the International Monetary Fund later on Wednesday and submit it to parliament, which is expected to hold a confidence vote on the proposed measures in early June.

"We aim to gather around one million people in a general strike across Romania the day parliament discusses the IMF-backed measures," Marius Petcu, head of one of the country's largest unions CNSLR Fratia, told Reuters.

Analysts say the five-month-old centrist government will struggle to force some of the measures through as it faces growing social unrest and probable legal challenges.

Bucharest has promised to cut state employees' wages by 25 percent and pensions by 15 percent to secure release of the next part of loans worth a combined 2 billion euros, without the need to raise taxes. [ID:nLDE64B1PN]

Boc said the lowest wage in the economy, of 600 lei ($177) per month and a minimum guaranteed pension of 350 lei would not be affected by the envisaged cuts, a stance branded as "unsatisfactory and cosmetic" by powerful unions.

The public sector, accused of inefficiency and corruption, employs 1.3 million workers, a third of all jobs, while pensions, wages and other social benefits account for two-thirds of budget spending.

Romania's biggest trade unions also decided on Wednesday to back an indefinite pay strike by around 350,000 teachers from May 31, followed by "warning and solidarity strikes" by transport workers, railwaymen, civil clerks and nurses in subsequent days.

"We're seeking to boost pressure on the government ... All our efforts to maintain constructively a social dialogue with this government have failed. This is not possible with the current cabinet," Petcu said.

Romania's bailout is crucial for its ability to finance a ballooning budget deficit, targeted at 6.8 percent of gross domestic product this year against an original 5.9 percent.

Political analysts have said parliament will probably rubber stamp the cuts next month but the government could face further legal obstacles to its attempt to cut the deficit.

Government's efforts to cut pensions from an average 170 euros per month are likely to be blocked by the constitutional court, as happened with IMF-backed cuts in Latvia. ($1=3.395 Lei) (Reporting by Radu Marinas; Editing by David Stamp)

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