Striking Workers Just One Part of Crisis in Moldova

29 Jun 2009

construction workers in Moldova
Photo: UNDP

Life is not sweet at two sugar factories in Cupcini in northern Moldova. In Cupcini, more than 200 workers have blocked access to the factories. With work and income in Moldova hard to find, the workers are seeking compensation deferred by management last year. Until they get it, 5,000 tons of sugar sits in the factories waiting to be delivered.

The striking workers are just one face of the global economic crisis in Moldova. 

“I didn’t have resources to support my family,” sugar worker Gladhi Vadim told the Jurnal de Chisnau, adding he went without salary for six months.

He is not alone in his struggles to make ends meet. In Moldova, a reduced demand for exports and a severe drop in money sent home by those working abroad, also known as remittances, has hit the country hard. According to the World Bank, the country’s per capita income remains among the lowest in Europe, hovering just above $1,000 (US) per year. Additionally, remittances have in recent years have accounted for more than 30 percent of Moldova’s GDP. As part of that, more than 25 percent Moldovans worked abroad, many in Russia.

With opportunities elsewhere dwindling, however, the migrants are now heading home to uncertain futures. In addition to joining the ranks of the unemployed, the newly jobless add new challenges for the small, landlocked nation squeezed between Romania and the Ukraine.

“Discontent could grow as falling incomes and rising poverty fuel protests and demonstrations,” Ben Slay, a senior economist for the United Nations Development Programme in Europe and CIS, United Nations Development Programme, said. “Countries with a history of recent or “frozen” conflict stand a heightened risk of volatility and instability.”

Moldova has already experienced protests this spring after tumultuous national elections. The elections are unresolved and the country remains in political limbo. Additionally, Moldova has a frozen conflict in the eastern region of the country. There, in the Transnitria region, a conflict kicked-off at the time of Moldovan independence in 1991 continues to smolder.

In addition to the immediate issues, there are also long-term concerns. “These trends pose the threat of major setbacks to human development, as incomes fall, unemployment rises, social assistance shrinks, and the ranks of the poor and vulnerable swell,” Slay said.

In Moldova, he adds, the UNDP will address these concerns by tailoring its already in place programmes to better fit the new challenges. For instance, through an existing network in several villages, the UNDP has created 10 social reintegration centers to combat trafficking of people. Due to the dire economic circumstances, many in Moldova are vulnerable such trafficking, especially women sold into prostitution and men trafficked as workers.

The UNDP is also helping returned migrants, both men and women, with job training to provide them with skills in demand in the job market.

And in Cupcini, the striking sugar workers are hoping to still get paid before their factories shutter. The factories are set to be closed due to lack of raw materials and financial problems. Before they do, the roughly 800 workers on strike are holding out hope.

“Six months I stayed home, without being paid, then we were informed that the factory won’t work this year,” long-time employee, Aliona Scurtu, told the Jurnal.

Added fellow employee, Gladhi Vadim, “No one cares about the poverty, which people get stuck in more and more.”  

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