What’s next after the July consulations organized by the Minister for Social Dialogue? Aurelia Cristea answered a series of questions for AlTreileaSector.ro.
Liviu Florea, editor-in-chief at AlTreileaSector.ro
The first thing Aurelia Cristea did, after the July consultation with NGOs was to transform the offices in which she works in a space accessible to disabled people. Civil society showed to her that Romanians need, among others, not just workplaces, but they also need sign interpreters or cities with suitable conditions for pedestrians.
AlTreileaSector.ro discussed about civil society with Aurelia Cristea, the minister on charge of the department created to manage the communication process between the authorities and the other actors of society, within the Ministry of Work, Family, Social Protection and Elderly People. Cristea drew some conclusions of the first six months in the current public job and talked about how NGOs surprised her, as well as about a few elements of current importance for civil society, such as the demands of trade unions and the body of employers, the law on social dialogue, The Social and Economic Council or the law on social economy.
ATS.ro: What directions do you follow, as a minister, to ensure the proper conditions for social dialogue in Romania?
A.C.: The main themes and the objectives I have assumed as a minister for Social Dialogue are the following. Firstly, I intend to create a proper framework for meetings between traditional social partners, irrespective of the issue to be discussed. At the same time, I have tried to mediate and to facilitate the dialogue within social dialogue commissions within the prefects’ offices as good as possible, so that the issues under debate should be mainly focused towards solutions and issues that can be solved at a local level. At the same time, I have tried to make everything that has to do with social dialogue transparent. From this point of view, my agenda was public all the time. I think it is extremely important to ensure this transparency and the informing of the public. Moreover, I have tried to take a step towards identifying new possibilities of partnerships between body of employers, trade unions and the Department for Social Dialogue (within the Ministry of Work – editor’s note) so as to promote and look for solutions on the issues of workplaces and legislation. I have already begun to work together on three projects with European financing.
ATS.ro: What’s not working so smoothly as far as social dialogue is concerned?
A.C.: Maybe time does not always allow us to follow all the steps we would wish for good and participative governing. Sometimes we do not have enough time to debate and we have to take immediate measures, so as to solve the issues.
ATS.ro: Do authorities choose to adopt certain decisions rapidly so as to skip consultations with civil society?
A.C.: This does not necessarily happen to overrule civil society. There are probably examples when you feel that way. But this is not about ignoring civil society. It’s about taking a decision. I hope, with all my heart, that we will settle a little bit and have the necessary time for debating things and doing them right.
ATS.ro: What are your greatest achievements so far, as the Minister for Social Dialogue?
A.C.: Firstly, for the first time in this department (within the Ministry of Work – editor’s note), we have laid three common projects, together with trade unions, body of employers and civil society. For me, this is one major achievement. I have also had a week dedicated to civil society in which, from the perspective of civil society, we have discussed problems we have in certain areas in ten working groups.
ATS.ro: When you were validated as a minister for Social Dialogue, you said all problems can be solved via dialogue. How would you characterize the dialogue between the political and the NGO sector?
A.C.: We still have a lot to work in this direction and we must all learn.
ATS.ro: Upon your validation as a minister for Social Dialogue you said that you would wish to identify, through a map, of all the problems the Romanian society has, and find, meanwhile, solutions. Is there such a map?
A.C.: This map is encapsulated in one of the projects for which we applied together with trade unions, body of employers and civil society. It’s very hard to draw up this map in such a short time.
ATS.ro: How many problems have you identified after the consultations which you have had in July with civil society representatives?
A.C.: The problems are countless. I could not put down a specific number, but there are really a lot of them. Do you know what is very important? There is a great willingness for involvement. Well, I strongly believe we should make the most of this willingness to get involved, from our relationship with civil society. At the same time, I chose to pay a visit to some of the NGOs which have carried out successful projects with an impact on a national scale, to try to promote them and to show that these things, this example of good practice, must somehow reverberate in public policies, as much as possible, but it must also be extended to a local level.
ATS.ro: Have you made a classification of the problems signalled by civil society in July?
A.C.: It is extremely difficult for me to do it, because I do not have all the information. What I can do is to try to raise awareness on this issue and to bring together all actors involved in this area, because they take the decisions.
ATS.ro How many problems identified by civil society in July can be solved by the end of 2014?
A.C.: There are things which do not cost money, we can solve those ones. For instance, providing a sign interpreter for deaf-and-dumb people at the Ministry of Work and drawing up a national plan for improving the accessibility of public space.
ATS.ro: What have you discovered during those consultations about the NGO sector in Romania?
A.C.: I can say that there are things which I have discovered from each of our social partners as things which have pleasantly surprised me. I have discovered, for instance, much competence, much desire to get involved and I think we have to make the most of this. I have discovered very good things in the trade union area as well, contrary to a perception manifested in public space. It is about ongoing projects oriented towards the benefit of trade union members. I even had a discussion with some of the trade union leaders, to make these successful projects known.
ATS.ro: Do you think that the NGO sector has a strong enough voice to be respected by authorities?
A.C.: In some situations it showed it has quite a strong voice. But I do believe that even here there’s still a need for unity and greater coherence.
ATS.ro: Do you consider that authorities get involved enough to support the NGO environment?
A.C.: I could ascertain that even in the social dialogue committees at ministry level, NGOs are invited. There is clearly a stable relation with interested NGOs, at each ministry. I think there is still much work to be done within local administration, as far as social dialogue committees at county level are concerned. I believe NGOs need to be a part of these social dialogue committees.
ATS.ro: On the long run, do you see any improvement of the relation between NGOs and authorities?
A.C.: I believe so, and I will constantly fight for this.
ATS.ro: At the July consultations you said you would periodically organise meetings with civil society actors. When will you have the next meeting with the NGOs?
A.C.: We hope we can organise the next meeting in September (the meeting was held at the end of September – editor’s note).
ATS.ro: What will be the aim of the next meeting?
A.C.: The aim will be to come up with solutions for the problems we identified, solutions which could be transposed in strategies at the national level on different issues, such as the one connected to making public space more accessible. This time, we shall have to receive, before the meeting, a written material from NGOs , so that we can follow the problems and respect a clear action plan, in which the things we discuss should also happen.
ATS.ro: It was is July still that the issue of a national NGO forum was discussed. Will it be different from the one organized by Centrul de Asistenţă pentru Organizaţii Neguvernamentale (CENTRAS)?
A.C.: We don’t set as a goal to organize a different forum from the one in CENTRAS. We wish to participate at that forum, as partners (the NGO forum was held this month – editor’s note).
ATS.ro: Please give me some details on the current status of the draft law pertaining to social economy.
At the moment, the social economy law is in Parliament. There are still some debates connected to it, coming from civil society and bodies of employers. I believe it is important to analyse it carefully and to do a proper job, so that we make it operational. Financing calls have been opened on social economy as well, which shows that we don’t necessarily need a law to have projects on social economy.
ATS.ro: Apart from NGOs, an important part of civil society is constituted by trade unions and bodies of employers. How do you see the relationship between trade unions/bodies of employers and authorities?
A.C.: Trade unions will evidently always have something to claim. This is their role. One has to establish if their claims can be realistically fulfilled taking into consideration the current possibilities of the government and the budget, if we have the state employees in mind, the economic agent as well as the trade union organizations. We, the government, have tried in a first phase to create and to adopt those fiscal measures which should support the business environment and to create a little stability and predictability, so as to be attractive from the point of view of foreign investment. In our attempt to offer this stability and a certain predictability, it is evident that the pressures of trade unions is there too, claiming more as well. We have tried, to a certain extent, to balance this, by raising the minimum wage every six months. It is important that the body of employers, the trade unions and the authorities discuss these measures, to evaluate their effects and to see what we can do to implement them so that none of the parties is disadvantaged.
ATS.ro: What happens with the law on social dialogue, for whose amendment Victor Ponta seeks the approval of the European Commission, IMF and World Bank? When did the last discussions on the modification of the law occurred and what were the conclusions?
A.C.: In October 2013, during one of the meetings within the National Tripartite Council with Prime Minister Victor Ponta, there was a discussion with the body of employers and the trade unions on the four modifications demanded by the trade unions to be transposed into amendments at the law on social dialogue. It was then established that social partners should reach a consensus on legislative modifications. At the moment, there have been four meetings of the work group made up of bodies of employers and trade unions on these four issues. At this moment, there is no consensus on the modifications demanded by trade union confederations. The bodies of employers said they do not go along with the themes as were proposed by trade unions. The four modifications demanded by trade unions aim: the unitary collective labour contract at national level, the percentage of trade unions representatives, additional protection for trade union leaders and the unleashing of work conflicts during the validity of the collective labour contract.
ATS.ro: Is it possible that, by the end of the year, certain changes aiming the law on social dialogue be done?
A.C.: It depends on the social partners and it depends on how pressing the matter is. What I can say, at the moment, is that we’ll have a meeting by the end of September on this issue, and on the issue of the modification of the law no. 62 (the law no. 62 of 2011 on social dialogue – editor’s note). We wish to reach an agreement on what must be changed about it, because the law has to be much more functional for employers, but especially for employees, who need to feel protected from abuses.
ATS.ro: Last year, Victor Ponta nominated 15 NGOs that were to be a part of the Social and Economic Council (SEC). Is the council working at the moment?
A.C.: The law stipulates that the Prime Minister must nominate the NGOs, and this is what the Prime Minister did. As for the functioning of SEC, it is working at the moment, but there hasn’t been a general assembly yet. Some part of the body of employers’ confederations no longer has representatives. I have urged all body of employers and trade unions in this situation to take all necessary measures to come back to a legal status, that is, to nominate their representatives so that we can have a plenary assembly. We also need that civil society is validated as a whole. I understood that just five NGOs have been validated so far. I wish that the CES becomes operational in October (Octomber 2014 – editor’s note), but this depends very much on the social partners who are present there.
ATS.ro: What do you think will happen with your initiatives, as a Minister for Social Dialogue, after your tenure comes to an end?
A.C.: Since all colleagues from the Department for Social Dialogue (within the Ministry of Work – editor’s note) as well as social partners were involved, I’d be glad if there would be some continuity about them.
Translated in English by Alexandra Calu.