The exploitation of workers and the situation of migrants in Romania: AGREE focuses on the different aspects of the topic in the country

The exploitation of workers in agriculture is a matter of fact in many European countries, such as the ones analyzed by the AGREE project. The original perspective from which the topic is perceived by unionists and experts from different national contexts gives the opportunity to reflect on how the exploitation of workers can have different looks according to the overall labor situation.

The situation in Romania Compared to the current situation in Italy and Spain, where the exploitation of migrants in the fields is a threat to social cohesion and to decent working conditions in many areas of the country, in Romania the rising debate on the arrival of migrants and refugees put for the first time this topic at the centre of a political agenda traditionally shaken by other urgent topics and emergencies. Less than 60000 migrants are present in the country and only 1500 refugees were registered in the country by last June. A limited number in a total population of almost 20 million. “This is the main reason why the public opinion is still not completely against this phenomenon” says Rodica Novac, coordinator of the Association for Organization Development Sah Rom, association which cooperated with small migrant communities to fight racism and intolerance against minorities. Which is the current situation in Romania? Romania is applying EU laws on migration in a fast and accurate way, in the framework of a National Strategy on annual and 4 years basis.

Only 5500 work permits were emanated by the government but only half of them are effectively taken by migrants willing to work in Romania. There are no seasonal workers and only after the construction industry boom in 2008 the number of work permits raised to 15000. The weak economic situation of the country does not invite them to stay longer and the country is still considered as a country of transit to go to other countries: only 350 migrants crossed illegally the borders last year. How it affects the exploitation of workers in agriculture? In fact there are not so many cases of exploitation of migrant workers, who often are paid more than the minimum wage, according to legislation which encourage only hiring high-skilled workers. Some fields like agriculture, would need more migrants as workers but the national law regulating this should be changed. There was no public debate on this because at the time of its approval migration was not a sensitive topic.

The EU debate on refugees started a public debate on it in the public opinion but less than 30 NGOs are active on the topic in the whole country What are the categories actually affected by exploitation in Romania? There are some specific categories affected by it, such as domestic workers (mainly from Philippines), daily laborers (in advertising, tourism or agriculture) who are poorly paid and with no social insurance, and call centers operators, sometimes speaking languages such as Arabic and Farsi but working in very bad conditions. Foreigners actually still don’t have access to specific professions, such as nurses, accounters, lawyers or doctors.

A local legislation not updated upon the new exigencies posed by the evolution of migration unexpectedly clamps down on exploitation of workers in Romania but the problem still affect some specific categories, such as the Romanian migrants abroad, who are often exploited in Italy or in other European countries. The action of unions, such as CNSLR – Fratia, is aimed at studying and preventing the phenomenon, as well as collaborating with other unions in Europe to fight the exploitation of Romanians abroad. Corneliu Constantinoaia, Head of the Social Department of CNSLR-Fratia tell us more about how the local situation is linked to the one of the bordering countries, as well as to the local legislation.

Why the presence of migrants working in agriculture, and workers’ exploitation, is so reduced in Romania?
It is very hard to detect it. Serbians and Moldovans sometimes crossing illegally the border work in this sector but agriculture is split in very small properties, often for autosubsistence, and it is just for this reason that small farmers do not hire foreigners. In our action we are focusing on the prevention of exploitation. There is a higher demand for workforce, for instance in agriculture, but until last year foreigners could not buy land. Consider that 4 million hectares are not used and there is a high external interest for this not only coming from Europe but also from China and Arabic countries. There is also a higher demand of skilled workers, able to work with new technologies. On September 2016 a Directive on seasonal workforce will enter in force and also migrants will have the right to be finally members of trade unions.
How locals perceive the presence of foreign workers and it affects also the relation between urban and rural areas?
At this moment the perception of the dangers related to migration is not very strong, people are not aware of it but it is important to inform people on the rights of migrant workers and on how to treat them in a correct way as well as on their effect on the society. Not it is not the case but cities are not confronted to this topic. The problem is even more stronger for Romanian migrants working abroad and making Romanians aware of what is happening in other countries is a good starting point to contrast exploitation involving Romanian citizens and not only the migrants.

fratia working group

Fratia working group

This action of information to residents of rural areas on dangerous situation incurred abroad by their compatriots was carried out by local branches of the union. Mircea Ciocan, member of the Local network of the Agree project and leader of the territorial union of CNSLR-FRATIA, Maramures county, was engaged in projects related to migrants, and took part to activities of exchange with Italian unions in order to identify and resolve cases of exploitation involving workers from Romania.
What kind of activities you carried out to prevent exploitation of workers in a country different from yours? Which were the challenges you faced?
We started some protocols of collaboration with CGIL in Apulia and Sardinia in 2008 in order to prevent the exploitation of Romanians working in Italy. Many cases of Romanian women segregated in Italy were identified and they were supporting in denounce these cases to Italian authorities. It happened thanks to the action of territorial branches of the union in Romania, activated on it by the families of the victims. This kind of collaboration is still working a lot but the role of media on it is very important, because it helps to raise the attention of the public to find other cases which can be solved through this collaboration established between unions. Many people knew about this protocol from programs on television.

But why the action of the unions regarding this topic is so important?
Corneliu Constantinoaia explains how the unions are at the center of an historical change in the country, of a different paradigm driving Romania from a departure country to a host country of migration, with all the consequences led by this phenomenon in terms of labor and everyday life conditions.
“Our work is very important here because the public opinion needs to be prepared for the future situation. We were a departure country for migrants and everywhere we had bad experiences. We are starting from concrete examples in order to give tools to foreign citizens who want to come here and for Romanians who deals with them in order to avoid social dumping for local workers”.

According to Rodica Novac, the risk is that in the agriculture sector, as well as in other fields of economy, a change in the current legislation can be seen as a way to hire foreign workers according to the poor labor legislation of their countries. Less rights, no right to holidays, more productivity: that is exactly what happens to Romanians abroad, a risk that cannot be imported in Romania.
How can civil society react to this?
Civil society is very weak on this point. There are no NGOs providing legal aid to migrants and only some of them are financed by foreign charities since most of these NGOs are not eligible for EDF according to Romanian law. That is leading to a poor capacity to protect not only migrants’ rights but rights in general. In neighboring countries such as Bulgaria, extremist parties are rising and the risk is that the same will happen here. We need to prevent it through solidarity, actively involving unions and NGO on this topic.

Simone d’Antonio