Thousands of workers protest Romania's plan to hike taxes

By ALISON MUTLER Markets Associated Press

Thousands of Romanian public sector workers rallied Wednesday outside government offices in Bucharest to demand that the government scrap its plan to make workers pay more social security taxes.

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Protesters blew whistles, yelled "Romania, wake up!" and called for the resignation of Prime Minister Mihai Tudose and other key ministers. Workers from the health care industry, the national railways and other sectors took part in the demonstration organized by the Alfa-Cartel trade union. Trade union leaders later held talks with Tudose about their concerns.

Under the new plan, social welfare taxes currently paid by the employer would be transferred to the employee. Unions say the measure would reduce employees' net income by at least 8 percent.

Ecaterina Constantinescu, a 47-year-old nurse from the southern city of Craiova, claimed that the leftist government, which took office in January, had failed to respect electoral promises to raise living standards.

"We've had enough. We work and we work and it's hard to make ends meet," she said, adding that she needs extra shifts and overtime to get by.

Factory worker Gheorghe Constantin from eastern Romania said the proposals would reduce his salary, while gasoline, utility and food prices have gone up in recent weeks.

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The premier later said the government planned to go ahead with its proposal but promised to find unspecified compensation for employees.

Police closed Bucharest's Victory Square where the government has its main offices for the demonstration, snarling traffic in the Romanian capital.