The quality of life of the average citizen of any Eastern European country has taken a dramatic plunge downward since the news of European economic devastation broke in 2008. Many citizens have taken drastic measures to make ends meet to include cutting back on [necessary] doctor visits and limiting food intakes, or restricting their children from attending school so that they might work for the family’s survival. After nearly an average of a 20 per cent decrease in GDP over the last year, every country in the Eastern Region is struggling to stay afloat amidst the tumultuous tide of widespread European economic devastation.
The effects the 2008 economic crisis has had on Romania
Romania is the country with the second highest budget cuts in education since 2008, with a 50 per cent cut; second only to Latvia with a 55 per cent cut.
Trade unionists assert that there has been an increase in “privatisation of partially higher education.”
Romania has experienced a 25 per cent cut in teacher salaries, the second highest cut of all countries, second only to Greece with a 30 per cent cut, which were then frozen since 2010.
Teacher pensions have been cut by 5,5 per cent as well as teacher expenditure allowances.
Teachers are voluntarily leaving due to low wages or to seek teaching employment in other countries, and there are rising problems with teacher recruitment.
Romania has seen the dismissal of teachers, the merger of some public schools, and the closure of several public schools. The country has had the highest number of dismissals of public school teachers, at 120.000, with 200 of those teachers voluntarily resigning.
Teacher unions have been in discussion with the Romanian Government about the effects on education from the austerity measures being taken. Romanians have also launched media campaigns, public protests, as well as electronic campaigning to garner attention towards their cause.
The Romanian Government wishes to decrease funding for public education from 4,3 per cent to 2 per cent of the Romanian GDP: a devastating blow that will undoubtedly affect many teachers, unions and the students—the future generations of Romanians.
Under new laws, the Romanian Government will also subject the teachers’ unions at the primary and secondary level to federal fees, which will jeopardize the unions futures.
The pupil to teacher ratio is 16:1.
The public expenditure on education is 4,3 per cent of the GDP (11,8 per cent total).
Romania today, with a population of 21,5 million, has more than 500.000 illiterate (and many non-literate) people, 76 per cent of whom come from rural areas. According to one report by UNICEF last year, the drop-out rate tripled in Romania in the 2000-2009 periods, with 20 per cent of children dropping out of school.
97.7 per cent of Romanian adults are literate while 97.3 per cent of the Romanian youth are literate; thus the nation is facing a slight decline.
Despite the low funding for education, 79 per cent of Romanian children still attend school to the primary level. Around 90 per cent attend still attain secondary education, but that number falls to 59 per cent at the tertiary level.
Public-sector workers protest their conditions:
The initial spark behind many of the education-related protests in Romania resulted from the autumn 2011 government decision to freeze national bank accounts, acting on the suspicion of monetary irregularities in the administration of the local budgets—including the education budget.
Many teachers in the Teleorman County of Romania went without salary for at least three months and often were forced to work in very cold conditions due to the governments’ inability to pay heating costs for school facilities.
The Federa?ia Sindicatelor din Înv???mânt 'Spiru Haret', the Confedera?ia Na?ional? Sindical? Cartel Alfa, and the Confedera?ia Na?ional? a Sindicatelor Libere din România 'Fr??ia' organized protest to take place in Alexandria, Romania, a city in the County of Teleorman.
The trade union federations met to reveal a list of initiatives upon which they wanted the government to take immediate action. Their list was as follows:
- Renounce government decision to defer the payment of salary rights won by teachers in court;
- renounce the wage freeze for public-sector employees in 2012;
- lift the ban on appointments of teaching and non-teaching staff in education;
- solve the shortage of space, and the oversized classes of children in pre-school education;
- abide by the provisions of the National Education Act, and allocate the share of 6% of the gross domestic product to education;
- resume social dialogue, and clear the educational system of all political interference;
- solve the situation of education teaching staff in the Teleorman County who had not been paid for three months.
A letter was addressed to both ETUCE and the European Commissioners outlining the trade union federations’ requests, and both ETUCE and the European Commissioners were in full support.
The Teleorman County teachers demanded their outstanding salaries and that the heating be turned back on in the schools.
In December 2011 the Romanian Government decided only to meet the Teleorman teachers’ demands and subsequently unfroze the local bank accounts and paid the outstanding salaries through a lengthy phase-out process completing in the year 2016.
Romania’s economy descends and political unrest ensues:
Thousands of Romanian citizens took to the street in the same month demanding their President, Traian Basescu, and the Education Minister resign.
Following [the decision and] the protests, the Romanian Minister of Education, Emil Boc, and his cabinet resigned in February of 2012 and the teachers’ union federations are continuing to press their issues with the new cabinet members.
In July 2012 Romanian Parliament voted to impeach President Basescu (but were unsuccessful) due to accusations by other cabinet members that President Basescu had acted unconstitutionally during his time in office. The decision to evict Basescu from office and its subsequent failure has undoubtedly exacerbated the state of Romanian affairs.
With political and nation-wide unrest still on the rise public-sector workers and the Romanian education system will likely not see changes to their conditions any time soon.