22 September, 2023
Victoria Stoiciu and Florin Poenaru (photo: The Barricade)

Тopics such as poverty, violation of labour rights and future of labour were in the centre of attention in a discussion, recorded and streamed live by „The Barricade“

Vladimir Mitev

Low income, problematic labour relations and future of labour were among the main topics in the first discussion of the series „Tema“, which took place on 24 April 2018 in the club „Londophone“. The discussion was focused on the causes and reproduction of poverty in Romanian. The special invitee was Victoria Stoiciu from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Romania. The moderator was Florin Poenaru from the left-wing portal „Critic Atac“. The coordinator was Vasile Ernu. „The Barricade“ streamed live the discussion in YouTube, which gathered around 30 people in this club in the heart of Bucharest.

In the first part of the talk Victoria Stoiciu focused the listeners`s attention to the different way of measuring poverty and underlined that each one of them presents reality in a distorted form. E.g. it turned out that the simple presence of a labour contract at the minimal salary takes its prestator out of the state of absolute or relative poverty, because the threshold under which these two classifications „rule“ is below 1900 leu (409 euro) of monthly income.

According to the data from 2013 the absolute poverty in Romania was present below 400 lei (86 euro) of monthly income. The threshold of relative poverty was 60% of the median salary in the country (in other words the income of literally the middle person in society, which is different fromt the medium salary, distorted upwards from the high incomes). In 2016 this threshold was a little below 500 lei (107 euro) of monthly income.

Nevertheless there is a widespred feeling of poverty in Romania, especially out of the large cities. It is explained with the inequality between capital and labour, between the small number of men with very high income and the large number of people that receive medium and low income. In fact the minimal salary can`t cover 100% of the expenditures, that a man has to make in order to satisfy his basic needs, known to statistics in the form of the so-called „consumer basket“.

According to data, which Stoiciu cites, the effect from social contributions transfer almost completely upon the employee is not so negative, as expected and influences adversely a few sectors of the economy, which are not key. Much greater is the problem of million working in the agriculture and self-employed, because they work in very precarious social and labour conditions.

In the second part of the discussions Stoiciu linked Romania`s poverty with labour conditions. She spoke about the campaign „Heroes of capitalist labour“, which aims to document cases of violations of labour rights and of persecution of labour union leaders, because of their desire to fight for the rights of workers. The campaign is realised by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation together with different organisations and media, among which is „The Barricade“. „Work place is one of the most undemocratic, most hierarhical and most autoritarian spaces in Romania… I hear that a lot is being said about democracy in society. Have you ever heard something said about democracy at the work place? I haven`t heard“, said Victoria Stoiciu about the cases, presented in the framework of the campaign. She pointed out that Romania doesn`t have even 5 NGOs, which deal with labour conditions.

Beside documenting labour rights violations, the campaign also aims to lead to change of legislation, so that the legal texts that allor for these abuses are eliminated. Victoria Stoiciu reminded that the campaign has supporters in the parliament. Three of them – the independent member of parliament Adrian Dohotaru, the senator from the Social-Democratic Party Gabriela Creţu and the member of parliament from the Social-Democratic Party Florin Manole, were present among the public.

In the third part of the discussion Florin Poenaru directed the talk towards the current problems with regard to the future of labour: the idea for guaranteed base income, the battle between Uber and the traditional taxi companies. In general, Victoria Stoiciu is sceptic towards the idea for a guaranteed universal income, because she is not sure whether the noble ideas behind it – such as income for everybody, elimination of the stigma upon the people who receive social assistence, would not be distorted in the process of implementation. E.g. according to the libertarians this policy could be a step towads elimination of the social state.

The expert reminded that in the case of taxi companies there is a traditional firm structure with a employer, while in the other case the employer is a platform. Also, in the case of Uber the difference between free time and work time disappears. The connection with the employer disappears, because it is not clearly determined. In the case of Uber it is not clear how employees will be able to organise, to ask for their rights, to make negotiations with unclearly who, so that they could obtain a collective labour income. In Europe social rights of the working people are related to the traditional way of occupations and for the social rights to be provided, when the employer is a platform, there must be a rethinking of the entire social system. Nevertheless, Victoria Stoiciu doesn`t prefer any of the two forms of occupation – Uber or the traditional taxis, because they are both forms of exploitation, and for her labour is „something blessed“. It must be made for the good of all and not only for the good of some employer.

According to Stoiciu inequality – another problem with growing importance, can`t be reduced only with fiscal measures or with salary rises. A measure that could bring about its reduction, could be „the socialisation of the company`s incomes“ – in other words, its employess to have the right to a share of the profit of their firm.

In the last part of the discussion the interlocutor answered questions from the public. One of them was related to the idea for socialisation of income and management of companies. Stoiciu underlined that such a model used to exist in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and it used to function well until the republic`s falling apart for other reasons.

Asked about the role of the EU with regard to labour and social development in Romanina and whether she sees grounds for attacking the policies of Brussels, Victoria Stoiciu answered that the EU is a very complex structure with different and contradicting interests. That`s why it should not be seen as something monolithic. E.g. with regards to reforms on the so-called „poster workers“ the position of the European Commission is more to the left than the Romanian government`s stance.

On the question of labour unions and how they could give greater opportunities to the workers to protect their own interest, the programme director of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation exlpained that in the cases, presented in the campaign „Heroes of capitalist labour“, the employees simply didn`t have what to lose any more and that`s why they have told their story publicly. The cases with the illegal dismissal of member of labour unions and with the recovery of the sacked man`s job through a court decisions, shows how much companies fear labour unions. However, it is also seen that labour unions don`t do sufficiently and are not active enough in the organisation of prortests for social rights in Romania in the last two years.

The discussions from the series „Tema“ will take place once or twice per month, announced their coordinator Vasile Ernu. The next meeting in Londophone will be on 8 May 2018 with the surgeon, writer and labour union leader Florin Chirculescu. The topic will be connected with Romanian health care system.

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