Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the rights of workers to form and join independent labor unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. Unions can affiliate with regional, national, or EU union federations, but they may affiliate with only one national organization. The law prohibits antiunion discrimination and allows workers fired for union activity to challenge their dismissal in court for reinstatement. The law provides for protection of freedom of association and collective bargaining, but unions complained there was little enforcement to protect against violations of these rights.
Civil servants generally have the right to establish and join unions. Employees of the Ministry of National Defense, certain categories of civilian employees of the Ministries of Interior and Justice, judges, prosecutors, intelligence personnel, and senior public servants, including the president, parliamentarians, mayors, prime minister, ministers, employees involved in security-related activities, and the president of the Supreme Court, however, do not have the right to unionize. Unions complained regarding the requirement to submit lists of union members with their registration application. Since employers also had access to the list, union officials feared this could lead to reprisals against individual unionized employees, particularly dismissals, and hinder the formation of new unions.
The law requires employers with more than 21 employees to negotiate a collective labor agreement but provides no basis for national collective labor agreements. Employers refusing to initiate negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement can receive fines. The law permits, but does not impose, collective labor agreements for groups of employers or sectors of activity. The law requires employers to consult with unions on such topics as imposing leave without pay or reducing the workweek due to economic reasons.
Unions may strike only if they give employers 48 hours’ notice, and employers may challenge the right in court, effectively suspending a strike for months. Although not compulsory, unions and employers may seek arbitration and mediation from the Labor Ministry’s Office for Mediation and Arbitration. Unions criticized the Labor Ministry for failing to intervene effectively in cases involving arbitration and mediation efforts.
Companies may claim damages from strike organizers if a court deems a strike illegal. The law permits strikes only in defense of workers’ economic, social, and professional interests and not for the modification or change of a law. As a result workers may not challenge any condition of work established by law, such as salaries for public servants, limiting the effectiveness of unions in the public sector.
Unions complained that the legal requirement for representativeness, which states that the right to collective bargaining and to strike can be asserted only by a union that represents 50 percent plus one of the workers in an enterprise, was overly burdensome and limited the rights of workers to participate in collective bargaining and to strike. In the absence of this clear majority, an employer may appoint a worker representative of its choosing to negotiate agreements. It is common for companies to create separate legal entities to which they then transfer employees, thereby preventing them from reaching the necessary threshold for representation.
Unions complained regarding the government’s general prohibition on union engagement in political activities, intended to prevent unofficial agreements to support political parties, due to past abuses by union officials.
Official reports of incidents of antiunion discrimination remained minimal. It is difficult to prove legally that employers laid off employees in retaliation for union activities. The government did not effectively enforce the law; however, penalties were commensurate with those for similar violations when enforcement was successful. The National Council for Combating Discrimination (CNCD) fines employers for antiunion discrimination, although it lacks the power to order reinstatement or other penalties, and employees usually must seek a court order to obtain reinstatement. The law prohibits public authorities, employers, or organizations from interfering, limiting, or preventing unions from organizing, developing internal regulations, and selecting representatives.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, there were reports that such practices continued to occur, often involving Romani, persons with disabilities, and children. The government did not effectively enforce the law and took limited measures to prevent forced or compulsory labor. The law criminalizes forced labor, and penalties for violations were commensurate with those of other serious crimes, such as kidnapping, but were not evenly applied in all sectors.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 16 percent of human-trafficking victims officially identified in 2020 were exploited specifically for labor purposes. In 2019 organized-crime investigators detained five individuals on charges of modern slavery. The individuals were accused of having kidnapped and detained several persons with a vulnerable background or mental-health problems; the victims were used for agricultural work without pay, starved, and forced to live in inadequate farm annexes. This case remained pending as of December.
Men, women, and children were subjected to labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, domestic service, hotels, and manufacturing. Organized rings, often involving family members, forced persons, including significant numbers of Romani women and children, to engage in begging and petty theft (see section 7.c.).
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits all the worst forms of child labor. The minimum age for most forms of employment is 16. Children may work with the consent of parents or guardians at the age of 15 if the activities do not endanger their health, morality, or safety. The law prohibits persons younger than 18 from working in hazardous conditions, includes a list of dangerous jobs, and specifies penalties for offenders. Some examples of hazardous jobs for children include those posing a high risk of accident or damage to health, exposure to psychological or sexual risk, night shifts, exposure to harmful temperatures, and those requiring use of hazardous equipment. Parents whose children carry out hazardous activities are required to attend parental education programs or counseling and may be fined if they fail to do so.
Minors who work have the right to continue their education, and the law obliges employers to assist in this regard. Minors between the ages of 15 and 18 may work a maximum of six hours per day and no more than 30 hours per week, provided their school attendance is not affected. Businesses that impose tasks incommensurate with minors’ physical abilities or fail to respect restrictions on minors’ working hours can face fines. Many minors reportedly did not attend school while working. Minors have the right to an additional three days of annual leave.
The law requires schools to notify social services immediately if children miss class to work, but schools often did not comply. Social welfare services have the responsibility to reintegrate such children into the educational system.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection may impose fines and close businesses where it finds exploitation of child labor. The National Authority for the Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adoption (ANDPDCA) in the Labor Ministry has responsibility for investigating reports of child labor abuse, but enforcement of child labor laws tended to be lax, especially in rural areas with many agricultural households and where social welfare services lacked personnel and capacity to address child labor violations. The ANDPDCA is responsible for monitoring and coordinating all programs for the prevention and elimination of child labor.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Resources were inadequate, but penalties were commensurate with those for other serious crimes like kidnapping. Government efforts focused on reacting to reported cases, and ANPDCA dedicated limited resources to prevention programs. According to ANPDCA, 220 children were subject to child labor in 2020, and 35 children were subject to child labor between January and March.
Incidents of child labor were widely believed to be much higher than official statistics. Child labor, including begging, selling trinkets on the street, and washing windshields, remained widespread in Romani communities, especially in urban areas. Children as young as five frequently engaged in such activities, but instances were frequently underreported because official statistics were limited to cases documented by police. Children whose parents worked abroad remained vulnerable to neglect and abuse. During the year the Labor Inspectorate identified four employers who exploited seasonally employed minors in the hospitality industry along the Black Sea coast, although media reports indicated additional, unreported cases. Of the 220 documented cases of child labor in 2020, authorities prosecuted alleged perpetrators in 13 cases, while an additional 103 cases remained under investigation at the end of 2020. Between January and March, 35 child labor abuse cases were investigated; of these, three were closed, 32 were still in progress, and no new criminal investigations were opened.
Also see the Department of Labor’s Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor at www.dol.gov/agencies/ilab/resources/reports/child-labor/findings .
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
Labor laws and regulations prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation because of race, sex, gender, age, religion, disability, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, HIV-positive or other communicable disease status, social status, or refugee or stateless status. The government did not enforce these laws effectively, reacting to claims of discrimination rather than adequately engaging in programs to prevent discrimination. Penalties for violations were in general commensurate with those for other types of discrimination, but they were insufficient to deter violations.
Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, and HIV status. Discrimination against Romani and migrant workers also occurred. The CNCD investigated employment discrimination cases in both the public and private sectors. During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, media reported several cases of medical staff being discriminated against by neighbors and denied access to local shops. Following media reports, there was a wave of public support for the medical staff in question.
The law mandates equal remuneration for work of equal value. Eurostat reports the pay gap between men and women in the country was 3.3 percent in 2019. While the law provides female employees reentering the workforce after maternity leave the right to return to their previous or a similar job, pregnant women and other women of childbearing age still suffered unacknowledged discrimination in the labor market.
There was no systemic integration of persons with disabilities into the workforce, and public bias against persons with disabilities persisted. While NGOs worked to change attitudes and assist persons with disabilities in gaining skills and employment, the government lacked adequate programs to prevent discrimination. The law requires companies or institutions with more than 50 employees to employ workers with disabilities for at least 4 percent of their workforce or pay a fine for lack of compliance, which many companies chose to do. In November 2020 the government re-established “sheltered” or “protected units,” enterprises that employ at least three persons with disabilities who represent at least 30 percent of the overall staff and contribute at least 50 percent of the cumulated full-time work hours. Local labor offices had limited success in facilitating employment for persons with disabilities.
NGOs reported that patients suffering from cancer and tuberculosis faced discrimination in the workplace. In 2019 almost one-third of employees with cancer reported they postponed informing their employer of their illness until after treatment, and 17 percent reported a substantial reduction in job duties and responsibilities upon returning to work. The law supports tuberculosis patients by providing monthly food allowances, medical leave, and psychological support but does not contain measures to protect patients from workplace discrimination.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Wage and Hour Laws: The law provides for a national minimum wage that is greater than the official estimate for the poverty income level and has nearly tripled in nominal terms since 2012. Approximately one in three employees earned the minimum wage according to the labor ministry. Despite minimum wage increases, 14.9 percent of employed Romanians remained at risk of poverty. During the year the country’s courts ruled in favor of female clothing-factory workers who reported unjustified 50 percent wage cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic. After receiving public pressure to investigate the allegations, officials confirmed inaccurate shift reporting, unpaid mandatory social insurance contributions, unpaid overtime wages, and worker harassment and intimidation.
The law provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours or five days. Workers are entitled to overtime pay for weekend or holiday work or work of more than 40 hours. An employee’s workweek may not exceed 48 hours per week on average over a four-month reference period, although exceptions are allowed for certain sectors or professions. The law requires a 48-hour rest period in the workweek, although most workers received two days off per week. During reductions in workplace activity for economic or technical reasons, the law allows employers to shorten an employee’s workweek and reduce the associated salary.
In response to COVID-19 restrictions, the government extended the category of eligible furlough (technical unemployment) benefits to independently registered businesspersons, lawyers, and individuals with income deriving from copyright and sports activities. The government adopted a flexible work plan modeled after Germany’s Kurzarbeit (flexible work) program with the aim of retaining employees on payrolls with joint government and employer contributions. The plan required employers to cover half of full-time wages and the Romanian government to pay 75 percent of the difference between the gross wage and the basic wage paid to the employee, based on the number of hours worked. Kurzarbeit and technical unemployment support was extended in July and was expected to remain in effect through the pandemic state of emergency.
Excessive overtime may lead to fines for employers if workers file a complaint, but complaints were rare. The law prohibits compulsory overtime. Starting during the year, the law allows for one of two caretakers of children to receive paid days off for periods when schools are closed; the income is capped at maximum 75 percent of the average economy wage.
In July, 13 members of the Cartel Alfa trade union led a protest caravan from Bucharest to Brussels regarding low wages and poor working conditions in Romania. The protest highlighted the concerns of more than four million Romanians seeking work in other EU countries due to limited opportunities in Romania who were often vulnerable to labor exploitation as migrant workers.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, through the Labor Inspectorate, is responsible for enforcing the law on working conditions, hours, and minimum wage rates, but it did not effectively enforce all aspects consistently. Penalties for violations of these laws were commensurate with those for other similar crimes but were not consistently applied. Labor inspectors have the authority to make unannounced visits and initiate sanctions, but the number of inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance in all sectors.
According to trade union reports, many employers paid supplemental salaries under the table to reduce tax burdens for employees and employers alike. Additionally, the Labor Inspectorate collaborated with the National Authority for Fiscal Administration to conduct joint operations to check employers in sectors prone to underreported labor, including the textile, construction, security, cleaning, food-preparation, transportation, and storage industries. These investigations often focused on underpayment of taxes rather than workers’ rights.
The government did not effectively enforce overtime standards. Union leaders complained that overtime violations were the main problem facing their members, since employers often required employees to work longer than the legal maximum without receiving mandatory overtime compensation. This practice was especially prevalent in the textile, banking and finance, and construction sectors.
Occupational Safety and Health: Occupational safety and health standards were appropriate for the main industries, but compliance and enforcement remained weak. Workers can remove themselves from situations they deemed dangerous to their health or safety without jeopardy to their employment. The labor inspectorate also had authority over occupational safety and health laws; however, not all workplace accidents were investigated by labor inspectors. Companies investigated minor incidents, while labor inspectors investigated more severe ones, typically those that resulted in fatalities or serious injuries. If appropriate, incidents may be referred for criminal investigation. Union leaders often claimed labor inspectors only superficially investigated workplace accidents, including ones involving fatalities, and that inspectors often wrongly concluded that the victims were at fault in most fatal accidents. In 2019 the country reported three deaths per 100,000 employees resulting from accidents at work.
The construction, agriculture, and small manufacturers sectors were particularly problematic sectors for both labor underreporting and neglecting health and safety standards. The government did not effectively enforce occupational safety and health laws. Penalties for violations of these laws were commensurate with those for other similar crimes but were not consistently applied. In November 2021, four persons died at the Babeni Mechanical Factory after explosive products were handled poorly. In August 2021, two workers died and four were hurt on a construction site in Bucharest city center, after a deep ditch collapsed.
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, additional risk bonuses were awarded to healthcare staff caring for COVID-19 patients or for those involved in pandemic response. Peaks in the number of critical cases of COVID-19 added pressure on hospital infrastructure, particularly in intensive care units. Medical staff and patients were hurt and killed in several hospital fire incidents over the year.
Informal Sector: Informal employment continued to affect employees in the agriculture, retail, hospitality, and construction sectors. In 2013 undeclared work represented 18.9 percent of total labor output in the private sector. In 2019 some 25 percent of Romanians admitted they had engaged in undeclared work and 44 percent knew someone who had engaged in undeclared labor.
The prevalence of the minimum wage, a tight labor market, and labor taxation exemptions for vulnerable sectors have made undeclared work less attractive. As a result of a mass outflow of unskilled and skilled labor, the country has experienced a tight labor market. Over the past decade, some 2.7 million Romanians of working age (20 to 64) have moved to other EU countries seeking employment. The construction sector has a higher minimum gross wage (3,000 lei or $728) and is exempt from income tax and health and pension mandatory contributions.
The law provides for temporary and seasonal work and sets penalties for undeclared labor. In accordance with EU regulations, the maximum duration of a temporary contract is 36 months. Workers in the informal sector were not covered by wage, hour, and occupational safety and health laws, and inspections.