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

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. Intimidation, culminating in dismissals and arrests continues to take place. At least three trade unionists and a woman trade union rights activist were assaulted, whilst at least two received death threats.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: 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 2002 Labour Code of the Russian Federation substantially weakened trade union rights and 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, just one of the recommendations of the ILO's Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations was taken into account, and only partially. Some of the amendments introduced by the government made trade union activity even harder to carry out.

Representation rules: The Labour Code imposes rules concerning the structure of trade union organisations as a requirement for legal recognition and collective bargaining. "Primary group" trade unions, that is, company unions that are structural units of a higher-level trade union organisation, have priority for representing the workers vis-à-vis the employer in a given company. The amendments to the Labour Code reinforced this system, however if there is no "primary group" union in a company, or where the "primary group" union represents no more than 50% of the workers, the law allows workers to elect a different representative body.

Collective bargaining: The Labour Code does not allow collective bargaining for individual occupations or collective agreements covering them. The ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association recommended that the government change these provisions to enable trade unions to conduct negotiations and sign agreements on individual occupations. The recent amendments to Article 26 of the Labour Code still do not allow for the signing of such agreements, but 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 may be no "primary group" union at the enterprise level, but another type of union, group of unions or even 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 in an enterprise, they can form a joint representation body based on proportional representation (depending on the membership of each trade union) in order to conduct negotiations. This body must represent more than 50% of workers. A "primary group" union representing over half of the total workforce can, of its own accord, initiate collective bargaining on behalf of all the workers, without the need to create a joint representative body. If the unions fail to set up a joint body that represents more than 50% of the workforce, the workers can choose a primary group union or another body to represent them.

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 or strikes on issues related to state policies.

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 many bureaucratic hurdles, which make it virtually impossible to hold a totally legal strike. These include the following: the duration of the strike has to be communicated beforehand, the union must re-issue its demands once collective bargaining has reached a stalemate, and a strike can only be held within two months of the strike ballot. A minimum amount of work in essential services is set by the authorities. Many categories of workers, including civil servants and railway workers, are not allowed to strike at all. Employers may bring in replacement workers during a strike. Most of the employers' requests to declare a strike illegal have been upheld by the courts.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: The global financial crisis and falling oil prices contributed to a wave of mass layoffs, increases in wage arrears and spontaneous protest actions. Several human rights and trade union activists were assaulted.

Interference, favouritism and "government-sponsored" trade unions: The ITUC affiliates experienced growing interference by the public authorities. In September, just after the ITUC affiliates announced their demands for the World Day for Decent Work, many media channels reacted in a way that amounted to slander. The ITUC membership was described as "suspicious". In some regions, the governors warned the organisations of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) not to take part in the street actions during the World Day for Decent Work. The vice-governor of Pskov oblast attempted to make the local FNPR leaders sign a petition that would tarnish the FNPR's reputation.

The All-Russia Confederation of Labour (VKT) and Labour Confederation of Russia (KTR) reported that state officials of varying rank pushed trade union structural units to switch their affiliation for the Sotsprof confederation. The latter clearly enjoys privileged relations with the authorities, by behaving as a "helpful" trade union centre, and benefits from that cooperation. In a number of enterprises certain officials have promoted the creation of Sotsprof organisations to undermine the VKT-affiliated local unions.

Anti-union employers: Anti-union behaviour is not uncommon. Employers try to avoid trade union recognition, evade collective bargaining and even target trade union leaders and activists. Workers are often pressured into leaving trade unions. The refusal to transfer checked-off trade union fees is still common. Trade unions can be hampered both in home-grown enterprises and in Russian subsidiaries of multinationals. Several activists were dismissed during the year, although in some cases they were reinstated following trade union action or a court decision.

Biased law enforcement: The state registration authorities regular demand much more from trade unions prior to their registration than they do from commercial organisations.

Contract labour: Contract labour and temporary agency work have become more widespread. In many companies it has become an instrument for weakening existing trade unions. More agency workers have become interested in trade unions, but both the agencies and the companies tend to resist unionisation.

Assault, death threats and a lawsuit at Ford Motors: Last year this Survey reported an industrial dispute at the "Ford Motors" production plants 24 kilometres outside Saint-Petersburg. An anti-union employer was supported by the Leningrad Oblast Prosecutor's Office. On 29 January, the Leningrad Oblast court declared the strike illegal. Vladimir Lesik, the Vice-President of the local trade union, was warned that he could be prosecuted for misconduct. Later, another trade union leader was beaten up and received death threats.

On 8 November, Alexey Etmanov, the head of the local trade union and the co-chairman of the Inter-regional Trade Union of Automobile Industry Workers (ITUA, an affiliate of the VKT and the International Metalworkers' Federation) was attacked. Etmanov managed to scare his assailants away and treated it as an ordinary street crime. However, the next day the deputy-chairman of the factory trade union Vladimir Lesik received a phone call, informing him that the incident was a "light" warning related to the union's activities.

On 14 November, Etmanov was attacked again. The police eventually detained the assailant.

Meanwhile, the state authorities had been keeping an eye on the trade union. The tax inspectors showed a sudden interest in the ITUA right after its 2007 strike; some supportive trade unions were also placed under inspection. The inspectors requested various trade union documents, including membership lists. In October, however, the arbitration court ruled that the tax inspectors could not ask for the lists of trade union members.

The company decided, in its turn, to sue the workers for damages following the 2007 strike. 31 employees who had stopped working for just under one month were sued for RUR 4,500,000 (the equivalent of EUR 98,000). No decision had been reached by the end of the year.

More assaults at TagAZ: In June and July, Alexei Gramm and Sergei Bryzgalov, ITUA activists at OAO "TagAZ" (town of Taganrog) producing Hyundai cars, were assaulted after taking part in a picket at the entrance to the enterprise. Bryzgalov was later hospitalised. Only someone with access to the company's central computer could have been able to track when trade unionists were at the gates. Gramm and Bryzgalov were trying to get information about wages and compensation payments and to get the management to recognise their union. Another activist, Sergey Penchukov, was earlier told on the phone that he "would not survive" in Taganrog. Trade unionists turned to the police, but the investigation had not produced any results by the end of the year.

Update on Leroy Merlin: The campaign against the FNPR- and UNI-affiliated Torgovoye Yedinstvo trade union at Leroy Merlin Vostok, a Russian subsidiary of the French retail chain, continued throughout the year. In January and February, Ivan Kochura, whose work had not been complained about for several years prior to the establishment of the trade union, faced several disciplinary measures. On 13 April, just ten days after workers had picketed one of the stores protesting against the anti-union repression, Kochura was fired. Another activist was forced to leave the company when his schedule was made extremely inconvenient for someone with family responsibilities. UNI intervened with the Adeo Group head office, but the management ignored the situation. In December the district court refused to reinstate Kochura. However, by the time of writing the verdict had been overturned by the Moscow regional court and referred back for review.

Update on the railways: In 2007, the management of Russian Railways asked the authorities to have the Trade Union of Railway Locomotive Brigades (RPLBZ, a member of the ITUC-affiliated KTR) dissolved. At the start of 2008, all territorial and local organisations of the RPLBZ were evicted from their offices, sometimes with "help" from the transport militia. The Inter-regional Transport Prosecutor's Office launched an inspection into trade union activities. In the view of RPLBZ, this inspection was illegal, so the trade union refused to cooperate, but the prosecutors proceeded on the basis of the employer's evidence. Having concluded that the trade union did not comprise enough different territories, the Prosecutor's Office demanded that RPLBZ changes its constitution. The Moscow-based Lyublin court agreed with the Prosecutor's Office. RPLBZ was asked to re-register as an inter-regional, rather than a national-level trade union, which would create a lot of administrative problems. Meanwhile, the harassment of trade union members and their families continued, and at the time of writing the trade union organisation had been forced to leave the KTR for the Sotsprof confederation.

Demonstrators arrested: An IUF protest took place near a central Moscow Marks & Spencer branch on 6 March. Five participants, including the leader of the VKT, labour activists and a journalist for the trade union press, were briefly detained.

Human rights activist assaulted: A French activist belonging to the organisation "Convoi syndical", which works with trade unionists and other civil society organisations, Carine Clement, was attacked on 13 November in Moscow. She was hospitalised for 2 days. She had been intimidated earlier on a number of occasions.

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