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2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Russian Federation

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Russian Federation, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 30 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 140,900,000
Capital: Moscow
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade unions suffer from official interference and employers' anti-union practices alike. A union leader was threatened and assaulted, and at least 60 workers lost their jobs in connection with their trade union activities. The right to strike is limited, and collective bargaining is impeded by excessive requirements. The systematic pressure on trade unions, exercised by some employers and state officials, led two trade unions centers, VKT and KTR, to submit an ILO complaint, supported by the other trade union center, FNPR and the international trade union movement.

Trade union rights in law

Despite initial guarantees, trade union rights are coupled with many restrictions. While freedom of association is enshrined in the Constitution and the Labour Code, in November 2009 the Constitutional court withdrew the requirement that consent of a higher trade union body is required in case of dismissal of elected, but not full-time, trade union officials.

The right to collective bargaining is also circumscribed as only one collective agreement can be signed in each enterprise on behalf of all the workers. Bargaining can be initiated by "primary group" trade unions that represent at least 50% of the workforce, or a group of unions if no primary group union exists. Furthermore, the right to strike is limited, as strikes can only be held to resolve a collective labour dispute, and solidarity strikes as well as strikes related to state policies are not recognised. Railway workers do not have the right to strike, and the categories of workers employed in the internal affairs agencies who are prohibited from striking have not yet been specified. The duration of a strike must always be announced in advance, and the law seems to impose compulsory arbitration in services that are not essential. The right to strike is also weakened by the employers' right to hire replacement workers during a strike.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Background: Thousands of workers have been laid off, and wage arrears are piling up. Large companies such as Avtovaz, responsible for the bulk of jobs in particular cities, are on the brink of closure. Industrial unrest has been rife, and has included large-scale demonstrations and hunger strikes. In February, after several hundred people blocked highways to alert the authorities of their problems, Prime Minister Putin said that the government "cannot, must not and will not" restrict "legal" forms of social protest, though it will crack down on protests that are considered "illegal".

Interference with union affairs: Registration rules give law enforcement bodies extensive control over the content of trade union constitutions. Registrars often interpret the law in a manner that unions perceive as inappropriate, but failure to comply with the registrar's comments will likely mean that the registration is delayed or denied. The law also requires the unions to specify the geographic scope of its activities. The registrars view this as an obligation to provide a list of all territories where the affiliates are active, and accepting affiliates from other regions would call for amendments to the union constitution.

Trade union leaders are often summoned by law enforcement bodies for different reasons. In most cases, this does not lead to further consequences and, in trade unionists' view, are just used to pressurise and harass them. Occasionally, criminal charges are considered against the unionists. Tax inspections and auditions are not uncommon, and failure to provide documents such as lists of members may result in fines. Police officers are also after union rosters: for example, after an employee was murdered in a company in Togliatti, the investigators demanded the full list of members of grass root trade union organisations, even though there was no link between the unions and the murder.

Systematic and serious violations: Attacks on trade union leaders, government interference and persecution, denial of registration and recognition, anti-union harassment in the workplaces and lack of effort in investigating the violations of trade union rights are not isolated cases, but an everyday reality. This has prompted two national trade union centres, All-Russian Confederation of Labour (VKT) and Confederation of Labour of Russia (KTR) to prepare a comprehensive complaint to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association. By the time of writing, the complaint has been submitted and then endorsed by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), the ITUC and the global union federations IMF, ITF and IUF.

Workers who join trade unions or engage in union activities are often mistreated by employers and authorities alike. While union members suffer from anti-union discrimination and pressure to relinquish their trade union membership, the leaders of grass-root organisations are subject to intimidation, harassment and even physical attacks. Since there are no special laws to protect freedom of association and the right to organise, trade unionists must make use of general legal procedures to protect their rights and liberties. Even though there have been some success stories of a conflict being settled or a wrongly dismissed leader reinstated, the existing mechanisms are considered ineffective.

National legislation is also being interpreted in a way that all cases of anti-union discrimination have to be reviewed by courts. Therefore, labour inspectorates, who are in principle entrusted with the task of overseeing compliance with the labour law, routinely dismiss complaints against anti-union behaviour, and appeals to the prosecutor's offices have so far not been effective. Trade unions report that the existing system fuels a climate of impunity in the workplaces. Moreover, appeals to the prosecutor's offices often do more harm than good, as prosecutors tend to side with the employers against the unions, and, after the investigation is concluded, anti-union pressure increases.

No external access to workplaces: The law grants external trade union representatives the right to access workplaces, but this right is often ignored in practice. For example, numerous state and private security companies handling commercial sea ports often refuse access passes, procrastinate on issuing them or demand that fees be paid, and sometimes also request lists of trade union members working in the port. Attempts to enlist the help of the public authorities have yielded little result, since the prosecutor's offices redirect the matter to the Ministry of Transportation that does not have the appropriate mandate.

General Motors: Trade Union Leader Attacked: In January, Evgeniy Ivanov, chairman of an organisation of the Inter-regional Trade Union of Automobile Industry Workers (MPRA) at the General Motors Avto production plant, received an anonymous phone call. "You should not have founded the union" the caller said, "you probably aren't thinking of your family at all". This was already the fourth telephone threat after the union was established in December 2008. Although Ivanov had the phone calls recorded, the police refused to open an investigation on 4 February.

Four days after the call, Ivanov was attacked in the lobby of his apartment building. Two unidentified persons hit the activist in the face several times, while saying "greetings from the trade union". Ivanov suffered a concussion and a nose fracture. This time, the police promptly opened a criminal investigation. However, shortly thereafter Ivanov was summoned to the so-called "E-Centre" (Office for combating extremism of the Saint Petersburg's Ministry of Internal Affairs). The E-Centre officers tried to pressurise Ivanov into "co-operating" with them, which meant giving information on trade union activities in Saint Petersburg. By the manner this meeting was conducted, Ivanov's lawyer grew suspicious about the E-Centre's possible involvement in the attacks, and tried to get the case transferred to a different jurisdiction.

The transfer motion was dismissed, and the appeal was lost on 31 March when the court ruled that it had no competency in investigative jurisdiction disputes. Furthermore, on 6 April, the chief investigator in charge refused to allow any inquiry pertaining to the role of the E-Centre in the attacks, but ordered that the investigators should look into a possible involvement by the employer. The case was officially suspended due to the inability to identify any suspects at the end of the year.

Union leader dismissed, his supporters follow: On 19 January, the Centrosvarmash company in Tver fired Dmitry Kozhnev, leader of the local organisation of the Inter-regional Trade Union of Automobile Industry Workers (MPRA). A conflict between the management and trade union had been triggered by Kozhnev's appeal to the company to pay due attention to health and safety at work.

On 28 May, the Zavolzhsky district court reinstated Kozhnev and ordered compensation for involuntary absence from work and a modest compensation for moral damages. However, Kozhnev was not allowed to work until 4 June, and was then assigned higher output targets. He was later put on standby, and was in fact not even paid according to the standby rate. Meanwhile, other employees were told that they could not expect "normal life" unless they resigned from the union. Seven employees who testified in court in support of Kozhnev were dismissed, demoted or forced to resign, although one was later reinstated by court order.

Lay-offs target trade unions: The management of GM-Avtovaz has been hostile towards the Inter-regional Trade Union of Automobile Industry Workers (MPRA) since its founding in 2006.

In March, the company laid off 400 employees, including Ilsiyar Sharafutdinova, who had been dismissed and reinstated several times, and 49 other trade union members. 25 trade unionists appealed the redundancy, but Sharafutdinova was the only one reinstated. The company also prohibited the MPRA co-chair from visiting the workplaces, regardless of an order from the prosecutor's office.

Ford Motors update: Etmanov still harassed: Alexey Etmanov, the chairman of the local branch of the Inter-regional Trade Union of Automobile Industry Workers (MPRA) at the Ford Motors Company Plant outside Saint-Petersburg, had been attacked twice in 2008. An arrest had been made in connection with the attack, but the suspect had been released and then disappeared. In April, coming home after a night shift, Etmanov and some fellow trade unionists discovered two hidden video cameras pointing at Etmanov's apartment door. The door was covered with faeces. This time, Etmanov did not file a police complaint.

The 2009 edition of the Survey also reported that Ford Motors had decided to sue the workers for damages incurred during a strike in 2007. The court has since rejected the employer's lawsuit.

Reprisals due to union materials: The local branch of the Inter-regional Trade Union of Automobile Industry Workers (MPRA) at the Centrosvarmash company in Tver prepared some campaign materials earlier in the year and circulated them among the union activists. In autumn, after the The Federal List of Extremist Materials (managed by the federal Ministry of Justice) had been updated, the union learned that, in a process the union was completely unaware of, the Zavolzhsky District Court of Tver had classified some of union leaflets as "extremist". National legislation prohibits the production and dissemination of materials listed as "extremist".

The Ministry's list, referring specifically to the Zavolzhsky District Court decision of 28 August, includes, for example, leaflets with the slogan "let those who caused the crisis pay for it", or variations thereof, phrases such as "against non-standard work arrangements" or "we demand our night shift pay" together with the MPRA logo, or caricatures depicting declining economic indicators. Trade unions are still unable to obtain the court verdict, and therefore cannot appeal against it.

There were also attempts to instigate criminal proceeding against Dmitri Kozhnev, the leader of the MPRA at Centrosvarmash. Kozhnev was called up by Federal Security Service (FSB) officers and asked about the trade union newspaper. Kozhnev was not given access to his file, but learned that there were at least ten complaints against him.

In Togliatti, the Department for Combating Extremism took particular interest in the MPRA and its grass-root affiliate "Yedinstvo". In July, on his way back from a union meeting in Moscow, Petr Zolotarev, MPRA co-chair and leader of Yedinstvo, was approached by department officers and questioned about the meeting. In October, Zolotarev was interrogated on actions planned by trade unions, possible participants, lists of speakers and demands to be put forward. Zolotarev reports that he feels he is being constantly watched ever since.

European Court of Human Rights addressed anti-union discrimination: On 30 July, the European Court on Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg made a decision in the case of Danilenkov and others vs. Russia, no. 67336/01 concerning anti-union actions in the Kaliningrad Sea Port. The dock workers, members of the Dockers' Union of Russia, had organised a strike in 1997 and were subsequently reassigned and demoted, suffered a decrease of their earnings and eventually lost their jobs. The authorities refused to prosecute the culprits, since an intention of discrimination could not be proved. Civil courts, while reversing many of the employers' decision, repeatedly dismissed the charges of anti-union discrimination, stating that discrimination could only be established within the framework of criminal proceedings.

The ECHR ruled that the State had violated articles 11 and 14 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (freedom of association and non-discrimination), since it had failed to fulfil its positive obligations to adopt effective and clear judicial protection against discrimination on the ground of trade union membership. Twenty-eight of the applicants were also awarded EUR 2,500 each in non-pecuniary damages. The Government tried to have the case reviewed by the ECHR Grand Chamber, but its request for referral was rejected (and the decision became final) on 23 December.

Conflict at GM Auto: In October, a number of grass-root trade union organisations affiliated to the Inter-regional Trade Union of Automobile Industry Workers (MPRA) brought their work-related demands to the management of GM Avto company in Saint Petersburg. Two work-to-rule actions were then organised in October and November, which triggered employer retaliation. One union leader was fired for unauthorised absence from work (although he was, in fact, working), another one was suspended, a third one was not getting a raise, and a woman trade unionist was fired for incapacity to work following a biased health examination.

Unionists harassed at Nestle WaterCoolers Service: In October, workers at Nestle WaterCoolers Service in Domodedovo, Moscow, established a trade union to address the problem of eroding real wages and

deteriorating working conditions. The management immediately launched an anti-union campaign: it began distributing the workload in a discriminatory manner so that the trade union members were unable to finish their tasks within the normal working hours or fulfil their quotas. Since most of the wages are performance-based, trade union members had to work 12-14 hours per day and hardly received 18,000 RUR (431 EUR) per month.

Union leader questioned: On 16 October, an organisation within the structure of the Inter-regional Trade Union of Automobile Industry Workers (MPRA) was established at the Tver Car Building Plant. Shortly thereafter all trade union members were officially summoned to the prosecutor's office to provide an explanation for the establishment of the trade union. Only one unionist showed up. A representative of the prosecutor's office then visited the company to interrogate the union leader on the procedure for founding the union, on questions discussed at the founding meeting, on trade union printed materials and on whether the union leader had travelled to Saint Petersburg.

Registration obstructed: Two national trade union centres, the All-Russia Confederation of Labour VKT, and the Russian Confederation of Labour KTR report numerous problems with trade union registration.

On 30 April, KTR applied for registration of amendments to its statutes. The federal Ministry of Justice granted the registration, but pointed out that some documents were not in compliance with the laws and ordered new amendments to the KTR constitution. The ministry also requested the federal Prosecutor's Office to audit KTR for possible "violations of federal law". On 24 June, the Gagarinsky Inter-District Prosecutor's Office ordered KTR to change "illegal" provisions of its constitution, such as the provision that KTR protects the constitutional rights and interests of employees (and not just its members), and provisions on interregional and territorial branches. KTR saw the order as an attempt of state interference and complained against the order, but unsuccessfully.

On 2 April, the Moscow City Court upheld an earlier court decision to effectively ban the Trade Union of Railway Locomotive Brigades RPLBZh from operating at the national level (see the 2009 edition of the Survey for details). The union explained that only its congress could change the union's geographic status, and that organising a congress is time-consuming. Nevertheless, between May and September the bailiffs ordered RPLBZh to pay a 5,000 roubles (120 EUR) enforcement charge and later a 30 000 penalty, and RPLBZh leaders received several warnings on criminal liability for failure to comply with a court ruling. An RPLBZh extraordinary congress convened on 9-10 September to make the required changes in its constitution and name, but in October the Ministry of Justice denied registration of the amendments. On 19 November, trade union leader Evgeniy Kulikov was charged with failure to implement the court ruling.

On 18 August, the Interregional Organisation of the All-Russian Union of Trade and Service Workers in Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast was also denied registration on grounds that either had no basis in law, or were mere formalities. The decision was appealed, but the outcome was not known by the end of the year.

Widespread anti-union activities at AvtoVAZ: The Avtovaz car production company in Togliatti was noted in the 2008 Survey for attacks on trade union leaders, and the situation has not improved. Members of the "Yedinstvo" trade union have been pressured to resign, leaders have been suspended from work, and some workers have not been paid bonuses or been denied time off. One woman worker reported that from the moment she joined "Yedinstvo" she would only get difficult and low-paid assignments, and that her salary dropped by over 20% as a result. Another worker was promised rewards, higher tariff rates and advanced training if he only resigned from "Yedinstvo". On 11 June, management was notified that a number of workers of the KOP company that provides catering for Avtovaz employees had joined "Yedinstvo". The new members were immediately told that they were "blacklisted" and that they should leave the union. Management has also repeatedly refused to allow external trade union representatives access to the workplace.

"Yedinstvo" made several appeals to the Prosecutor's Office. The office organised some inspections, but they were purely formal and often only the employers' representatives were contacted. The union also tried to obtain access to the workplace for external trade union representatives via a court order, but this claim was rejected on 11 March.

No recognition at TagAZ: The local organisation of the Inter-regional Trade Union of Automobile Industry Workers (MPRA) at the TagAZ Taganrogsky branch has been fighting for recognition. The branch management has refused to acknowledge the official notifications on the establishment of the union, and has reported to the state auditing agencies that no trade union organisation exists in the branch. TagAZ was noted in the 2009 edition of the Survey for attacks and threats against trade union leaders.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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