Romania is a constitutional republic with a democratic, multiparty parliamentary system. The bicameral parliament consists of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, both elected by popular vote. Observers considered presidential elections held on November 10 and 24 and parliamentary elections in 2016 to have been generally free and fair and without significant irregularities.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs is responsible for the General Inspectorate of the Romanian Police, the gendarmerie, border police, the General Directorate for Internal Protection (DGPI), and the Directorate General for Anticorruption (DGA). The DGPI has responsibility for intelligence gathering, counterintelligence, and preventing and combatting vulnerabilities and risks that could seriously disrupt public order or target Ministry of Internal Affairs operations. The minister of interior appoints the head of DGPI. The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), the domestic security agency, investigates terrorism and national security threats. The president nominates and the parliament confirms the SRI director. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over SRI and the security agencies that reported to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
Significant human rights issues included: police violence against Roma; endemic official corruption; law enforcement authorities condoning violence against women and girls; and abuse against institutionalized persons with disabilities.
The judiciary took steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, but authorities did not have effective mechanisms to do so and delayed proceedings involving alleged police abuse and corruption, with the result that many of the cases ended in acquittals. Impunity for perpetrators of human rights abuses was a continuing problem.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government partially respected this right. Independent media organizations noted excessive politicization of the media, corrupt financing mechanisms, and editorial policies subordinated to the former elected ruling party and owners’ interests. Reporters said their freedom of expression was also limited by restricted access to information of public interest issued by the previous government and public institutions, including expenses, contracts, or bids involving public funds, and officials’ academic records. Reporters and NGOs often had to sue state-controlled ministries, agencies, or local entities to access public information.
Freedom of Expression: The law prohibits denying the Holocaust and promoting or using the symbols of fascist, racist, xenophobic, or Legionnaire ideologies, the last being the nationalist, extremist, anti-Semitic interwar movement. Various government bodies, mainly the gendarmerie, continued to fine, place under temporary arrest, ban, or block individuals who protested in the streets against corruption, the government, the early release of inmates, or child abuse and for better health, education, and social services. When fines were challenged, some courts ruled in favor of the protesters. On May 5, in a high-profile case, the Bucharest Court rejected the gendarmerie’s appeal in the case of Ioan Duia, who is deaf and mute and was fined 2,000 lei ($500) by the gendarmerie for shouting slogans against the ruling party.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: While independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without overt restriction, politicians or persons with close ties to politicians and political groups either owned or indirectly controlled numerous media outlets at the national and local levels. The news and editorial stance of these outlets frequently reflected their owners’ views and targeted criticism at political opponents and other media organizations.
Violence and Harassment: Dozens of reporters throughout the country continued to be harassed, sued, or threatened by the authorities they investigated or by their proxies. On March 22, former justice minister Tudorel Toader refused to renew accreditation for private ProTV’s reporter Ovidiu Oanta and Realitatea TV’s Ionela Arcanu, both of whom covered justice issues. Toader invoked a law stating that an accreditation can be refused if the reporter “disturbs the activity of that institution.” The two journalists were known for their tough questions during his news conferences. Following NGO and independent media protests and allegations that the minister might have violated the constitution, Oanta’s accreditations were returned. Arcanu was reaccredited on May 8, after Toader left office.
On April 15, journalist Emilia Șercan, who investigated cases of plagiarism by government officials, reported that she had received death threats. She filed a criminal complaint, and on September 18, DGA prosecutors charged the former rector of the National Police Academy, Adrian Iacob, and the former deputy rector, Mihail-Petrica Marcoci, with instigating blackmail and instructing police officer Gheorghe Adrian Barbulescu to issue death threats against the reporter to stop her investigations. On December 10, Bucharest Court sentenced Barbulescu to one year in prison. Because he collaborated with prosecutors and disclosed the superiors who ordered him to issue the threats, he was not sent to jail. Instead, the court mandated that he would be monitored by the probation service for two years. The ruling in Barbulescu’s case was not final.
On June 11, reporter Diana Oncioiu of the Let There Be Light (Sa Fie Lumina) media project received death threats while she was investigating the sexual abuse of students at Husi Theological Seminary in Vaslui County. An unknown individual told the reporter that her head would be “ripped off” if she continued to document private matters of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Following the reporter’s criminal complaint, police identified the suspect as Dragos T., a former student of the Husi Seminary. In September, however, prosecutors decided not to pursue criminal charges against Dragos T., as the threats “were not premeditated but a spontaneous gesture” and ordered him to perform 50 days of community service. In Dela0.ro, Oncioiu published an investigation into sexual child abuse cases that found courts determined three out of four cases were considered consensual. In November the Superior Council of Magistrates chair Lia Savonea requested the Judicial Inspection to investigate whether another article by Oncioiu published in Dela0.ro affected “judicial independence” and “magistrates’ impartiality.” The Judicial Inspectorate’s investigation against the reporter and the outlet remained pending.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of association, but the government occasionally restricted freedom of peaceful assembly.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The constitution and law provide for the freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.
In-country Movement: The internal movement of beneficiaries of international protection and stateless persons was generally not restricted. Asylum seekers may be subject to measures limiting their freedom of movement and to detention in specific circumstances. The law and implementing regulations provide that the General Inspectorate for Immigration may designate a specific place of residence for an applicant for asylum while authorities determine his or her eligibility, or may take restrictive measures, subject to approval by the prosecutor’s office, that amount to administrative detention in “specially arranged closed areas.” According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of October no such cases of asylum detention were recorded during the year. Applicants who do not qualify for asylum are treated as aliens without a right to stay in the country and may be taken into custody pending deportation. According to the law, those applying for asylum while in public custody were released from detention if granted access to the ordinary procedure. Detention in public custody centers is subject to regular review and should not exceed six months unless there are specific circumstances, in which case detention may be extended for up to 18 months. Applicants for or beneficiaries of international protection in certain circumstances, particularly those declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, may be subject to administrative detention in public custody centers.
The government may grant “tolerated status” to persons who do not meet the requirements for refugee status or subsidiary protection, but who cannot be returned for various reasons. These reasons include cases where stateless persons are not accepted by their former country of habitual residence or where the lives or well-being of returnees could be at risk. Persons with “tolerated status” have the right to work but not to benefit from any other social protection or inclusion provisions, and the government restricted their freedom of movement to a specific region of the country.
f. Protection of Refugees
Abuse of Migrants, Refugees, and Stateless Persons: According to UNHCR, several incidents of harassment, discrimination, and crimes against refugees and migrants were reported throughout the year in Bucharest and other parts of the country, although most incidents were not reported because of fear, lack of information, inadequate support services, and inefficient redress mechanisms.
The government cooperated with UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern, which could include irregular migrants potentially in need of international protection.
Refoulement: The law establishes exceptions to the principle of nonrefoulement and the withdrawal of the right to stay following a declaration of a person as “undesirable.” This may occur, for example, when classified information or “well founded indications” suggest that aliens (including applicants for asylum, or persons granted asylum) intend to commit terrorist acts or favor terrorism. Applicants for protection declared “undesirable” on national security grounds were taken into custody pending the finalization of their asylum procedure and then deported.
Access to Asylum: The law provides access to asylum procedures to foreign nationals and stateless persons who express their desire for protection, which may be in the form of refugee status or temporary “subsidiary protection” status. The asylum law prohibits the expulsion, extradition, or forced return of any asylum seeker at the country’s border or from within the country’s territory, but this was not without exception, particularly in cases that fell under the country’s national security and terrorism laws.
The law also refers to the concept of a safe third country. The law extends to irregular migrants who transited and were offered protection in a third country considered safe or who had the opportunity at the border or on the soil of a safe third country to contact authorities for the purpose of obtaining protection. In such cases authorities could deny access to asylum procedures if the designated safe third country agreed to readmit the applicant to its territory and grant access to asylum procedures.
Freedom of Movement: The law incorporates four “restrictive” measures under which the internal movement of applicants for asylum may be limited. The first two establish an obligation to report regularly to the General Inspectorate for Immigration or to reside at a regional reception center. A third restrictive measure allows authorities to place applicants in “specially arranged closed areas” for a maximum of 60 days, either to access the asylum procedure or if the asylum seeker is deemed to pose a danger to national security. There was no case of an asylum applicant being placed in a specially arranged closed area through October. Authorities may also place asylum applicants in administrative detention in a public custody center if they are subject to a transfer to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulations or if they have been declared “undesirable” for reasons of national security, pending their removal from the country.
According to UNHCR, irregular migrants, persons declared as “undesirable,” asylum seekers deemed to pose a “risk of absconding,” as well as other categories of foreigners may face detention in public custody centers. Under provisions of the law to limit “abuse to the asylum procedure,” irregular migrants who submitted their first application for international protection while in custody were released from detention only if granted access to the ordinary asylum application procedure. The provisions raised concerns among UN agencies and civil society due to the ambiguity in the phrases “abuse of the asylum procedure” and “risk of absconding.”
The period of detention in a public custody center could be prolonged up to a maximum of 18 months.
Employment: While persons granted international protection have the legal right to work, job scarcity, low wages, lack of language proficiency, and lack of recognized academic degrees and other certifications often resulted in unemployment or employment without a legal contract and its related benefits and protections. Obtaining a legal work contract remained difficult for various reasons, including tax concerns and the reluctance of employers to hire refugees.
Access to Basic Services: Effective access by persons with refugee status or subsidiary protection to education, housing, lifelong learning and employment, public health care, and social security varied across the country, depending on the level of awareness of various public and private actors responsible for ensuring access to these services.
Recipients of subsidiary protection complained of problems regarding their freedom of movement to other countries due to the additional visa requirements. UNHCR reported that refugees saw citizenship acquisition as a cumbersome, costly, and difficult process, with some requirements, particularly related to the applicant’s financial situation, that were difficult to meet.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot based on universal and equal suffrage.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials. Nevertheless, corrupt practices remained widespread despite several high-profile prosecutions. There were numerous reports of government corruption during the year.
According to World Bank indicators and other expert opinion, corruption remained a problem. Bribery was common in the public sector. Laws were not always implemented effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: The DGA continued to investigate and prosecute corruption cases involving political and administrative officials throughout the year. In June the Senate rejected the DGA’s request to open a criminal investigation of Senate President Calin Popescu Tariceanu for bribery, and in September the Senate rejected the DGA’s request to open a criminal investigation of former health minister Florian Bodog for abuse of office. In February the High Court convicted and sentenced former Constanta mayor Radu Mazare and 31 other codefendants to nine years in prison for fraudulent real estate transactions. In May the High Court convicted speaker and party chair Liviu Dragnea to three and one-half years in prison for instigation to abuse of office.
Verdicts in corruption cases were often inconsistent, with sentences varying widely for similar offenses. Enforcement of court procedures lagged mostly due to procedural and administrative problems, especially with respect to asset forfeiture.
A series of emergency ordinances and other legislative amendments to judicial statutes enacted in 2018 created several conflicting provisions and triggered legislative confusion and public protests from a significant number of judges and prosecutors during the year. While the former government repealed some of provisions, it left in place provisions establishing the Section to Investigate Offenses in the Judiciary, an entity that judicial and law-enforcement stakeholders publicly criticized as having the potential to intimidate judges and prosecutors.
Corruption was widespread in public procurement. A 2016 law provides for a comprehensive software mechanism to flag potential conflicts of interest in public procurement, but the law was not implemented. Bribery was common in the public sector, especially in health care. Individual executive agencies were slow in enforcing sanctions, and agencies’ own inspection bodies were generally inactive. Despite the emphasis on prevention in the latest National Anticorruption Strategy, individual agencies and the government did not take significant action in this area.
Financial Disclosure: The law empowers the National Integrity Agency (ANI) to administer and audit financial disclosure statements for all public officials and to monitor conflicts of interest. The law stipulates that the agency may identify “significant discrepancies” between an official’s income and assets, defined as more than 45,000 lei ($11,250), and allows for seizure and forfeiture of unjustified assets. The mechanism for confiscation of “unjustified assets” was cumbersome. Through September 15, ANI identified three cases of “significant discrepancies” totaling 3.3 million lei ($825,000). Through September 15, ANI identified 97 cases of incompatibilities, 26 cases of conflicts of interest, and eight cases with strong indications of criminal or corruption offenses. During the year ANI reviewed 14,000 public procurement procedures and issued 25 integrity warnings.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials generally met with human rights NGOs and were cooperative and sometimes responsive to their views.
There were some reports that government officials were reluctant to cooperate with NGOs that focused on institutionalized persons with disabilities or to accept NGO criticism of institutions for persons with disabilities. In 2017 the Ministry of Labor and Social Justice ceased to allow representatives of the Center for Legal Resources (CLR) to visit institutions for persons with disabilities, stating that the ministry’s agreement with the CLR would not be renewed. In March the National Center for Mental Health and Antidrug Fight, a governmental agency subordinated to the Ministry of Health, revoked a recently issued authorization allowing the CLR to visit institutions for persons with disabilities. The CLR is an NGO that reports on alleged abuse of institutionalized persons with disabilities.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsperson has limited power and no authority to protect citizens’ constitutional rights in cases requiring judicial action. The Office of the Ombudsperson is the only institution that may challenge emergency ordinances in the Constitutional Court and did so for several controversial ordinances. The ombudsperson is the national preventive mechanism implementing the optional protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. This gives the ombudsperson the power to conduct monitoring visits to places where individuals are deprived of their liberty, including prisons, psychiatric hospitals, and asylum centers. As of September the ombudsperson issued 77 recommendations to penitentiaries, schools, law enforcement agencies, and other governmental institutions.
In 2017 the government established the Office of the Children’s Ombudsperson empowered to examine human rights complaints made by children or their legal representatives. In 2016 parliament established the Council for Monitoring the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The council was authorized to make unannounced visits in centers and hospitals for persons with disabilities to check if the rights of these persons were respected, issue recommendations, and submit criminal complaints. As of September the council had issued 37 reports during the year with recommendations based on visits to residential centers for persons with disabilities. Observers reported the council’s recommendations and reports were inaccurate and noted that conditions had not improved. Human rights activists and media regarded the institution as ineffective and believed that the inspectors who drafted the reports lacked the necessary human rights expertise.
Each chamber of parliament has a human rights committee tasked with drafting reports on bills pertaining to human rights. On several occasions members of these committees expressed the views of their political parties rather than addressing problems impartially.
The National Council for Combating Discrimination (CNCD) is the government agency responsible for applying domestic and EU antidiscrimination laws. The CNCD reports to parliament. The CNCD operated with the government’s cooperation and, for the most part, without government or party interference. According to the CNCD, the institution did not receive adequate resources. Observers generally regarded the CNCD as effective, but some criticized it for a lack of efficiency and political independence.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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 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 president of the Supreme Court, however, do not have the right to unionize. Unions complained about the requirement that they 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, hindering 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 can challenge the right in court, effectively suspending a strike for months. Military personnel and certain categories of staff within the Ministry of Internal Affairs, such as medical personnel, are not permitted to strike. Although not compulsory, unions and employers can seek arbitration and mediation from the Labor Ministry’s Office for Mediation and Arbitration. In one case unions criticized the ministry for failing to intervene effectively during a six-week strike at a household appliances production plant in Satu Mare in northwestern Romania. Workers were demanding a two-lei ($0.50) per hour increase in wages; unions claimed that the employer made little effort to engage constructively with employees.
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, is overly burdensome and limits the rights of workers to participate in collective bargaining and to strike. In the absence of this clear majority, an employer can appoint a worker representative of its choosing to negotiate the agreement. Some companies created separate legal entities to which they transferred employees, thereby preventing them from reaching the threshold for representation.
Unions complained that the government’s general prohibition on union engagement in political activities was intended to prohibit unions from entering unofficial agreements to support political parties. The law provides for this control due to past abuses by union officials. Authorities could exercise excessive control over union finances, although the government asserted that national fiscal laws apply to all organizations. The International Labor Organization’s Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations identified fiscal laws as an area of concern.
Official reports of incidents of antiunion discrimination remained minimal, as it was difficult to prove legally that employers laid off employees in retaliation for union activities. The CNCD fines employers for antiunion discrimination, although it lacks the power to order reinstatement or other penalties. In 2018 the CNCD issued fines in 19 cases involving access to employment and profession, which includes antiunion discrimination and collective bargaining agreement infringement. The law prohibits public authorities, employers, or organizations from interfering, limiting, or preventing unions from organizing, developing internal regulations, and selecting representatives. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations, and employees must usually seek a court order to obtain reinstatement.
The government and employers generally respected the right of association and collective bargaining.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The law prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labor. Nevertheless, there were reports such practices continued to occur, often involving Roma, 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, but penalties have been insufficient to deter violations.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 100 of the 497 victims of trafficking officially identified in 2018 were exploited specifically for labor purposes. Of these, 42 were trafficked for agricultural work and 26 victims were forced into begging.
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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law prohibits 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 age 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 (ANPFDC) 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 ANPFDC is responsible for monitoring and coordinating all programs for the prevention and elimination of child labor.
The government did not effectively enforce laws, and penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. Government efforts focused on reacting to reported cases, and the ANPFDC dedicated limited resources to prevention programs. According to the ANPFDC, 260 children were subject to child labor in 2018. The incidence of child labor was widely believed to be much higher than official statistics reflected. 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 engaged in such activities, and cases were usually documented only when police became involved. Children whose parents work abroad remain vulnerable to neglect and abuse. In 2018 a total of 92,027 children had at least one parent working abroad. In nearly a fifth of these cases, both parents were abroad. Of the 260 documented cases of child labor in 2018, authorities prosecuted only one alleged perpetrator, while an additional 135 cases remained under investigation at the end of 2018.
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 or 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. Although the CNCD and the Labor Inspectorate investigated reported cases of discrimination, penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Discrimination in employment or occupation occurred with respect to gender, disability, and HIV status. Discrimination against Roma and migrant workers also occurred. With respect to employment discrimination, the CNCD processed 365 cases in 2018 and 278 in the first half of the year. The CNCD addressed cases in both the public and private sectors.
According to Eurostat, the pay gap between men and women in the country was 3.5 percent in 2017. While the law provides female employees re-entering the workforce after maternity leave the right to return to their previous or a similar job, pregnant women and other women of childbearing age could still suffer unacknowledged discrimination in the labor market.
Although systematic discrimination against persons with disabilities did not exist, the public had a bias against persons with disabilities. NGOs worked actively to change attitudes and assist persons with disabilities to gain skills and employment, but 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. Before the ordinance was adopted, the law allowed companies not in compliance with the quota to fulfill their legal obligation by buying products from NGOs or firms, known as “sheltered units,” where large numbers of persons with disabilities were employed. NGOs reported that sheltered units lost an important source of income as a result. Local labor offices had limited success in facilitating employment for persons with disabilities, finding employment for 402 individuals in 2018 and 85 during the first quarter of the year.
NGOs reported that patients suffering from cancer and tuberculosis faced unacknowledged discrimination in the workplace. Almost one-third of employees with cancer reported they postponed informing their employer of their illness; after treatment, 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.
As authorities allow greater numbers of non-EU citizens to live and work in the country, reports of discrimination against migrant workers have become more prevalent. In Arad local workers went on strike in solidarity with their colleagues from India after a rail car manufacturer deducted the transportation costs from India to Romania as a lump sum from monthly wages without prior notice to the employees. After media reported that a major construction company in Bucharest housed many Vietnamese workers in unsuitable conditions, the company canceled their labor contracts, claiming the workers made public statements against company regulations and damaged its public image. The Health Inspectorate subsequently fined the company 45,000 lei ($11,000) for providing housing to non-EU workers that failed to meet sanitary conditions.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law provides for a national minimum wage that is greater than the official estimate for the poverty income level. The minimum wage has nearly tripled in nominal terms since 2012. In addition a government decision issued in December 2018 introduced a differentiated minimum wage, decreeing that employees with a university degree and at least one year on the job must receive at least 13 percent more than other minimum wage workers earn. The government also introduced a significantly higher minimum wage for construction workers. Up to 60 percent of employees earn the minimum wage according to the Labor Ministry. Authorities enforced wage laws adequately, although a significant informal economy existed. According to Eurostat data, in 2018 nearly a third of the population (32.5 percent) was at risk of poverty or social exclusion. Despite minimum wage increases, nearly one in seven employed Romanians was at risk of poverty.
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. Excessive overtime may lead to fines for employers if workers file a complaint, but complaints were rare. The law prohibits compulsory overtime.
The law gives employers wide discretion regarding the performance-based evaluation of employees. The law permits 90-day probationary periods for new employees and simplifies termination procedures during this period.
The law provides for temporary and seasonal work and sets penalties for work performed without a labor contract in either the formal or the informal economy. In accordance with EU regulations, the maximum duration of a temporary contract is 36 months.
The Labor Ministry, through the Labor Inspectorate, is responsible for enforcing the law on working conditions, health and safety, and minimum wage rates, but it does not effectively enforce all aspects consistently. The inspectorate was understaffed and inspectors underpaid; consequently, the inspectorate had high turnover and limited capacity. Minimum wage, hours of work, and occupational safety and health standards were not effectively enforced in all sectors. The construction, agriculture, and small manufacturers sectors were particularly problematic sectors for both labor underreporting and neglecting health and safety standards. The Labor Inspectorate increased inspections in 2018, identifying 14,568 undeclared workers and fining employers 119.2 million lei ($29.8 million). Through June the Labor Inspectorate identified 5,004 undeclared workers and fined employers 50.5 million lei ($12.6 million).
According to trade union reports, many employers paid supplemental salaries under the table to reduce both tax burdens for employees and employers alike. To address underreported labor, in 2017 the government increased the minimum required payroll taxes that employers must pay for their part-time employees to equal those of a full-time employee earning minimum wage. In addition 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 always receiving mandatory overtime compensation. This practice was especially prevalent in the textile, banking and finance, and construction sectors.