2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Russian Federation

Population: 142,500,000
Capital: Moscow
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Trade unions that actively campaign for workers' rights and interests are likely to suffer pressure from the management as well as from the public authorities. Dismissals, arrests and assaults took place during the year. Murder was attempted against a political and labour activist, possibly in connection to his trade union activities. The restrictive provisions of the Labour Code remain in force despite ILO criticism. The right to strike is limited to the point that virtually any strike is considered illegal, often for bureaucratic reasons.

Trade union rights in law

Workers have the right to form and join trade unions. However, there are legal restrictions on the organisational structure of trade unions, the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike.

Labour legislation: The Labour Code of the Russian Federation was adopted in 2002. It substantially weakened trade union rights in comparison to the Labour Code previously in force. It also weakened the protection of organised workers.

Further to complaints by Russian trade unions, the ILO urged the government to amend the Labour Code to bring it in line with international labour standards. Around 300 amendments were introduced in 2006. However, only one of recommendations of the ILO's Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations was partly taken into account account. The remaining amendments mostly made trade union activity even more complicated.

Rules on structure imposed: The Labour Code imposes rules concerning the structure of trade union organisations as a requirement for legal recognition. Only first-level trade unions can represent the employees in dealing with the employer, i.e., within one enterprise. The amendments introduced to the Labour Code further entrenched this system, giving all the rights and guarantees solely to primary trade unions at the enterprise level. On the other hand, if the enterprise-level trade union, even the majority trade union, is not a structural unit of a higher-level trade union, the law allows workers to elect a different representative body.

Collective bargaining: The Labour Code does not allow for collective bargaining at the level of individual occupations or for signing professional agreements. The ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association recommended that the government change these provisions to enable trade unions to conduct negotiations and sign professional agreements. The recent amendments to Article 26 of the Labour Code still do not allow for the signing of professional agreements and allow only interregional ones.

For many trade unions, collective bargaining is made problematic by the fact that their structure is different from that required by the Labour Code: there is no first-level organisation at the enterprise level, but there is a trade union, several trade unions or a trade union federation.

Only one collective agreement can be signed in each enterprise. According to the Labour Code, if there are several trade unions at an enterprise, they must form a unified representative body on the basis of proportional representation (depending on the membership of each trade union) in order to conduct negotiations. If there is no such body, the workers' interests are represented by the organisation uniting over half of all workers, or, in its absence, a different trade union organisation selected by the workers. In accordance with the new version of the Labour Code, the primary organisation uniting over half of all workers can, of its own accord, initiate collective bargaining on behalf of all the workers, without the need to create a united representative body. The other trade unions can be notified later. Such a situation makes it nearly impossible for small-scale trade unions to take part in collective bargaining.

The law on commercial secrets and the Labour Code regulations on workers' personal data protection make it very difficult for the trade unions to obtain the information necessary for collective bargaining.

Limitations on the right to strike: The Labour Code recognises the right to strike, but only under certain conditions. A strike can be held only to resolve a collective labour dispute. The law does not recognise the right to conduct solidarity strikes, strikes demanding the recognition of a trade union or strikes criticising the government's economic and social policy.

The Labour Code has a complicated procedure in place for putting forward demands with regard to collective labour disputes and calling a strike. There are multiple bureaucratic limitations, which make holding a perfectly legal strike nearly impossible, such as: the duration of the strike has to be communicated beforehand, the union has to re-issue its demands after collective negotiations have stalemated, a strike can only be held within two months from the strike ballot, etc. The minimum amount of work in essential services is settled by an administrative body. Many categories of workers, such as civil servants and railway workers, are not allowed to strike at all. Employers may bring in replacement labour during a strike. Most of the employers' claims to declare a strike illegal have been sustained by the courts.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: The government's control over civil society is getting firmer. Several large-scale demonstrations were prevented or dispersed, and a number of Western journalists and civil rights activists had to leave the country. Despite restrictive legislation, strikes occur throughout the year. There were several mine explosions that claimed workers' lives.

Anti-union employers: Anti-union behaviour is widespread. Employers try to avoid trade union recognition, evade collective bargaining and even target trade union leaders and activists. Workers are often pressured to quit trade unions. Refusal to transfer check-off trade union dues is still common. Trade unions can be hampered both in homegrown enterprises and in Russian subsidiaries of multinationals. Conflicts were reported in enterprises such as IKEA, Nestle, Heineken and others. Several activist were dismissed during the year, although on a number of occasions they were able to return to work either because of trade union action or by a court decision.

Biased law enforcement: State registry authorities are often much more demanding with regard to the registration of trade unions than they are with regard to commercial organisations.

During the year, trade unions that organised or participated in labour protests, especially strikes, faced problems with public authorities. Instead of enforcing the law in an impartial way, state agencies essentially sided with employers and made serious obstacles to trade unions. Sometimes the interference amounted to punishing workers.

On Kamchatka peninsula the militia tried to arrest a regional trade union leader for alleged unauthorised use of loudspeakers during a picket. Near the Black Sea, in Novorossiysk, the dockers' leader was questioned by the internal affairs department about the economic damages that a work-to-rule action could have caused to the port. In Southwestern Siberia the concerted manipulation of workers by the Yuzhkuzbassugol Company and the district prosecutor's office successfully prevented a strike in Yesaulskaya mine, causing the union chairman to resign and later getting rid of other trade union activists.

Contract labour: Contract labour, or temporary agency work, has become more widespread. In many companies it has become an instrument to weaken existing trade unions. More agency workers have become interested in trade unions, but both the agencies and the companies tend to resist unionisation. For example, the workers posted by a temporary agency (Ankor) to the Coca Cola plant in Saint Petersburg joined the Agricultural Complex Trade Union (affiliated to the ITUC member Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, FNPR, and IUF), which is also established at different Coca Cola enterprises throughout the country. Immediately after, the management told the trade union leader Sergey Dolgiy that his contract was about to expire on 13 January. The agency director told Dolgiy in a private conversation that he would have no problem getting posted elsewhere if he only quit his trade union activities. Coca Cola trade unions organised a number of pickets for Dolgiy's reinstatement.

Leroy Merlin: On 22 November an organisation of the "Torgovoye Yedinstvo" (Unity in Commerce) trade union (affiliated to FNPR and UNI) was established in Leroy Merlin Vostok, a Russian subsidiary of the French retail chain. The union immediately asked the management for a meeting. Not only did the employer refuse to recognise the union or to engage in collective bargaining, it also started an anti-union campaign with enormous pressure on workers not to join a trade union. The situation was getting progressively worse at the time of writing.

Ford Motors and public prosecutors: A bitter industrial dispute affected "Ford Motors" production units 24 kilometres from Saint-Petersburg. Following 20 days of strike in December, the union managed to get its demands met, which included an agreement that previously-dismissed trade unionists would not be persecuted. However, the dispute showcased not only anti-union management but also anti-union public authorities.

Since the employer initially avoided conciliation procedures prescribed by law, on 26 November the strike committee decided to seek the help of the Vsevolozhsky district prosecutor's office. The committee's inquiry was ignored, and on 12 December V.V. Lesik, a member of the strike committee was called to the Leningrad Oblast Prosecutor's Office for interrogation. The officials asked questions about the union's affiliation to other trade union structures, whether striking workers received financial aid, whether the union kept minutes of its meetings and who was involved in the internet campaign that called for sending faxes to block the company's work.

On 14 December the Leningrad Oblast Prosecutor's office issued a formal representation against V. V. Lesik and I.V. Temchenko, another member of the strike committee, accusing the trade unionists of violating labour laws. The representation also ordered the strike committee to take measures with a view to eliminating all violations and to take disciplinary measures against those guilty of such violations. Failure to do so could bring punishment under the Code of Administrative Offences (misdemeanours), the representation said. Evidently, no law gives the strike committee a mandate to take any disciplinary measures against anyone.

Avtovaz: trade unionists under attack: A large-scale strike took place in the car manufacturing company "Avtovaz" (city of Togliatti). On 15 October, several individuals assaulted Anton Vichkunin, chairman of the "Yedinstvo" trade union committee, as well as a member of the Automobile and Farm Machinery Workers' Union (dismissed after the strike) and a local journalist. The journalist recognised the attackers as the officials of the department fighting against organised crime. Vichkunin had to be hospitalised, another trade unionist had his eyebrow cut and the journalist had his arm broken. Shortly before the strike, Vichkunin was arrested and spent three days in detention. The trade union committee's office was put under surveillance of the authorities.

Authorities to "help" railways: In autumn, frustrated by trade union's persistence in its demands, the top management of the RZD (Russian Railways) asked the General Prosecutor's Office to have the Trade Union of Railways Locomotive Brigades (RPLBZ, affiliated to ITUC member Confederation of Labour in Russia, KTR) dissolved. The General Prosecutor's Office instructed the Interregional Transport Prosecutor's Office to inspect trade union documentation.

Meanwhile, RPLBZ notified the employer that a strike was to take place as of 28 November. The union made sure that all formalities for calling a strike were met. On 21 November the employer asked the Moscow city court to declare the strike illegal; in two days' time the court ruled to declare the strike illegal. The RPLBZ executive committee was given a written warning about the inadmissibility of strikes in the railways. Trade unionists were threatened with criminal charges. Four Interior Affairs Department officials and a trained dog searched the RPLBZ office without trade union leadership being present. Another official, F.P. Vasilyev, from the economic security department, ordered RPLBZ to hand in all financial documentation, which was to be inspected on the basis of the Law on Militia. Vasilyev subsequently threatened that he would definitely find grounds for criminal charges to be brought against the RPLBZ.

Brutal assault, probably attempted murder: On 7 June, Mikhail Chesalin, a prominent trade union activist and the leader of the Kaliningrad organisation of the Dockers' Union of Russia, was attacked by an unknown assailant when he got out of his car. He was severely stabbed and beaten up and left unconscious in a pool of blood. He was later hospitalised with a skull trauma and spinal injuries. While Chesalin is involved in politics, the assault was very likely linked to his trade union activities: his union was in the middle of a wage-raising campaign, and there were a few high-profile cases of trade union rights violations in the Kaliningrad port. Trade unions throughout Russia and abroad started a worldwide campaign for a fair investigation in support of Chesalin.

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