Labor Force

U.S. Department of the Army Country Studies Handbook, Library of Congress, n.d.


In 1921 nomadic herders and monks dominated Mongolia’s work force. Foreigners—Russians and Chinese—comprised the vast majority of the work force for all other occupations, namely agriculture, trade, handicrafts, and services. Mongolia faced the task of transforming the labor force into one capable of filling the variety of occupations required by a modern socialist economy. At first, the new government encountered numerous problems in building its work force, including illiteracy, the lack of qualified personnel, labor shortages, and attitudes inconsistent with systematized work and regular hours. As a result of these problems and the economy’s initially slow development, the labor force remained primarily agrarian until the mid-1960s.

The composition of Mongolia’s labor force changed slowly in the 1920s and the 1930s. In 1924 party leader Horloyn Choybalsan remarked that Mongolia had no more than 150 industrial workers. By 1932 the country had 2,335 workers and employees (employees were defined as nonproduction state employees, such as administrators and professionals), of which 302 were industrial workers. By 1936 industrial workers had increased to 2,400, and they had surpassed 10,000 in 1939. There were 33,100 workers and employees in 1940; nevertheless, 90 percent of the work force was engaged in agrarian pursuits—primarily, in herding. The distribution of the worker and employee work force in 1940 was 41.4 percent in industry, 29.3 percent in nonproduction occupations, 3.0 percent in agriculture, 4.2 percent in trade and communications, and 2.2 percent in trade. Large-scale transformation of the work force accompanied the major effort to industrialize and to collectivize agriculture after World War II. By 1960 agricultural and forestry workers represented 60.8 percent of the labor force; industrial and nonagricultural material production workers, 26.2 percent; and employees engaged in nonmaterial production labor, 13 percent. In 1985 agricultural and forestry workers dropped to 33.8 percent of the work force, while industrial and nonagricultural production workers rose to 39.8 percent, and nonproduction workers, to 26.2 percent.

Furthermore, large numbers of women entered all sectors of the economy as it developed. Women and children traditionally took part in herding activities; as the economy expanded, so did women’s participation. Between 1960 and 1985, women’s representation in the worker and employee work force rose from 30.8 percent to 51.3 percent. According to the 1979 census, women comprised 45.6 percent of the work force. Sixty-nine percent of all employed women, or 42.5 percent of the work force, were engaged in material production. Thirty-one percent of all employed women were engaged in nonmaterial production; these women comprised 54.6 percent of all workers in nonmaterial production.

Foreign labor played a major role in the development of Mongolia’s economy. Because of labor shortages, Chinese and Soviet workers initially constituted a large proportion of the industrial and construction force. In 1927 about 26 percent of industrial workers were Mongolian, and in 1934 about 50 percent were foreign. In 1940 Mongolians made up 87.7 percent of all workers and employees; 6.6 percent were Chinese; and 5.7 percent were Soviets. In the 1950s, China sent approximately 10,000 laborers to Mongolia to engage in such construction projects as road and bridge building. In 1961 the number of Chinese workers peaked at 13,150; then, it declined, in the wake of the SinoSoviet split. Soviet citizens had a major role in the Mongolian economy as advisers and employees of joint Mongolian-Soviet enterprises, particularly after 1960. Smaller numbers of East European experts also came to Mongolia after its 1962 entry into Comecon. At the beginning of the 1980s, about 32,000 Soviets and 15,000 East Europeans were working in Mongolia.

Labor Force Policy and Planning

The Mongolian regime sets and implements labor force policy and planning. In the late 1980s, policy on the work force followed the General Plan for Development and Distribution of the Mongolian People’s Republic’s Productive Forces for the Period up to the Year 2,000 and the Program for Optimal and Rational Use of the MPR’s Labor Resources. Manpower was managed by the State Committee on Labor and Wages until January 1988, when the committee was dissolved and its functions were absorbed by the new State Planning and Economic Committee. The major objectives of state manpower policy were: planned filling of all jobs with workers possessing the appropriate occupational qualifications in order to satisfy manpower requirements for the smooth functioning of the economy; full employment, balancing the number of workers with jobs available; increased labor productivity in all economic sectors; and manpower management based on principles of free will and material interest and on observance of the constitutional right to work and to free choice of occupation. The government planned labor resources and allocated labor by drawing up a national manpower balance sheet for one-year and five-year periods. This balance sheet, which aggregated territorial and administrative manpower balance sheets, took into account total population, total labor resources, distribution of labor resources, and estimates of additional manpower and training requirements; it also estimated the number of young people starting work or study courses. Analysis of the national manpower balance sheet enabled the state to plan for the training and the allocation of skilled manpower.

Special emphasis was placed on domestic vocational and technical training and on training opportunities abroad. In 1985 Mongolia had 40 vocational training schools with an enrollment of 27,700. Many Mongolians studied and took training courses of varying duration in the Soviet Union and other Comecon countries; in 1988 there were approximately 10,000 such students in the Soviet Union. The Eighth Plan called for the training of 52,000 specialists with higher and secondary technical specialist education and for no fewer than 60,000 skilled workers. As a result of such training, Mongolia’s literate work force possessed increasingly sophisticated technical skills.

The state allocated manpower in two principal ways. First, local committees considered individual wishes, place of residence, and family situation, then provided work warrants to graduating students from all levels who were not pursuing further education. These work warrants compelled the management of organizations requesting workers to give the graduating students work in the appropriate occupation, as well as to provide additional training, housing, and other benefits. Second, state labor organizations recruited workers to fill positions. Workers could choose occupations, and they signed contracts committing them to work for either an indefinite period or for a fixed period of up to three years. State recruitment of labor was important because of labor shortages in certain sectors of the economy. With increased urbanization and the emphasis on specialized technical training, agricultural laborers were scarce, as were workers in capital construction. Imbalances in the labor force, combined with the composition of the population (the World Bank projected in 1987 that by 1990 some 72 percent of the population would be younger than fifteen) have led at least one Western analyst to suggest that sectoral unemployment among Mongolia’s well-educated youth would be a problem in the 1990s.

Working Conditions and Income

The Labor Law of the Mongolian People’s Republic, enacted in 1973, set forth the framework governing working conditions, wages and benefits, and trade union activity for workers and employees. The labor of members of agricultural cooperatives was regulated by individual negdel charters; they were based on the Model Charter of the Union of Agricultural Associations, last amended in 1979, and on other legislation. The Labor Law and agricultural legislation emulated Soviet law.

Workers and employees had an eight-hour workday (six hours on Saturdays and on the eve of holidays), eight public holidays, and fifteen days’ paid vacation. In 1989 some service collectives were experimenting with a five-day workweek to determine whether the country should change from a six-day to a five-day workweek. Those engaged in arduous labor worked seven-hour days. Overtime was restricted, with some exceptions for emergencies. Minors (ages sixteen to eighteen; some fifteen-year-olds could obtain permission to work) worked a seven-hour day, and they received thirty days’ paid vacation; arduous labor for minors was prohibited. The Labor Law contained sanctions for those who violated labor discipline and incentives for outstanding work performances. Workers, employees, and negdel members received compulsory state social insurance, paid for by their employers or negdels. State social insurance provided benefits for temporary incapacity to work because of illness, pregnancy and birth; benefits for birth of a child and for burial; and pensions for old age, disability, and loss of a breadwinner. In addition, state social insurance funds maintained a system of rest homes, sanitoriums, resorts for workers and employees and their families, pioneer camps, and so forth. The retirement age for the entire work force was sixty years for men with twenty-five years’ experience and fifty-five years for women with twenty years’ experience. Employers provided funds, full pay, reduced work days, and leaves of absence in order to raise the professional and technical qualifications of workers and employees through study and training courses.

Because of the high percentage of women of childbearing age in the labor force, the Labor Law contained provisions to protect pregnant women and women with children younger than one year. Refusal to hire women, reduction of their earnings, or dismissal because of pregnancy or the existence of children were all illegal. With medical commission concurrence, pregnant and nursing mothers were eligible for a shortened workday and for transfer to lighter work; they were not eligible for night work, overtime, or business trips. Women received forty-five days’ pregnancy leave and fifty-six days’ birth leave; women who did not fully use their pregnancy leave could combine the remainder with birth leave. Mothers also could combine pre-partum and postpartum leave with annual leave. In addition, they could receive an additional six months of unpaid leave and retain their jobs. Nursing mothers were granted paid breaks of up to two hours per day to nurse infants younger than six months and one hour to nurse infants from six to twelve months. Workplaces with large numbers of female employees were required to provide facilities for nurseries, for kindergartens, for nursing mothers and infants, and for personal hygiene.

National income in Mongolia in the 1980s was supposed to be distributed according to socialist principles contained in Article 17 of the Constitution. First, the state deducted from the social fund for the expansion of socialist production, the creation of reserves, the development of public health and education, the maintenance of the aged and the disabled, and the satisfaction of the collective requirements of members of society. Second, the remainder of national income was distributed in accordance with the quality and quantity of labor, based on the socialist principle from each according to his ability, to each according to his labor. Information on real wages and income, however, was scarce. Western sources estimated that 1985 per capita income was $880 based on gross domestic product (GDP) and $1,000 based on GNP. Mongolian sources referred to raising wages and income in percentage terms, but they rarely listed actual numbers. The Economic and Social Development Guidelines for 1986- 90 stated that during the Seventh Plan real income per capita rose by 12 percent, and they called for a 20-percent to 23- percent increase in monetary income during the Eighth Plan. Real income during the latter plan was to grow in part through wage increases and in part through such measures as reduction of electricity tariffs and a 30-percent increase in the minimum pension for negdel members.

Government statistics provided only limited information on salaries. For example, statistics on the growth rate of monthly average salaries for workers and employees indicated that salaries rose 44.2 percent between 1960 and 1985. Salaries of production workers rose 54 percent, and those of nonproduction employees rose 22.9 percent. No figures were available on the actual level of salaries. Average annual wages for negdel members rose from 474 tugriks in 1960 to 2,400 tugriks at the end of the 1970s.

Trade Unions

Mongolia’s trade union movement initially had a difficult start, but then it settled down to peaceful growth as a useful tool of the regime. In 1917 Mongolia’s first two trade unions, which had mostly Russian and few Mongolian members, were established but trade unionists were murdered in 1920 by troops of the White Russian baron, Roman Nicolaus von Ungern-Sternberg. Reestablished in 1921 with 300 members, the unions were reorganized in 1925 into Mongolian, Chinese, and Russian chapters. In August 1927, 115 delegates, representing 4,056 union members, held the First Congress of Mongolian Trade Unions, establishing the Mongolian trade union movement in the form it still maintained in the late 1980s. In 1927, as in the late 1980s, the organization and functions of Mongolia’s trade unions were patterned on those of the Soviet Union.

In the late 1980s, the highest-level trade union organization was the Mongolian Trade Unions Congress, which was convened every five years; the thirteenth congress was held in 1987. In the interim, trade union affairs were run by the Central Council of Mongolian Trade Unions. The chairman of the Central Council was a member of the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party Central Committee and of the Presidium of the People’s Great Hural. Mongolian trade unions, through the Central Council, possessed the right of legislative initiative in the People’s Great Hural. Below the Central Council were four branch union organizations—each run by its own central committee—for agricultural workers; for construction and industrial workers; for workers and employees in transport, for communications, trade, and services; and for employees in culture and education. Each aymag, as well as Ulaanbaatar, Darhan, and Erdenet, had its own trade union council, as did the Ulaanbaatar Railroad. Below the provincial level there were 3,000 primary trade union committees and more than 7,000 trade union groups. The Central Council published the newspaper Hodolmor (Labor) three times a week and the magazine Mongolyn Uyldberchniy Eblel (Mongolian Trade Unions) six times a year. In 1982 there were 425,000 trade union members. In 1984 about 94.7 percent of all office and professional workers and laborers in the national economy were trade unionists, and members of the working class accounted for 55.8 percent of trade union membership.

Mongolian trade unions did not engage in collective bargaining to represent worker interests to management as was done in capitalist countries. Instead, Mongolia’s trade unions had a variety of functions. Politically, trade unions received party and state guidance and served regime goals by . . . [contributing] to winning over the masses in order to succeed in the implementation of the social and economic policy of the party. The Mongolian trade unions were active in the international arena; the Central Council of Mongolian Trade Unions joined the World Federation of Trade Unions in 1949, and Mongolia joined the International Labour Organization in 1968. The Central Council maintained contacts with more than sixty foreign trade union organizations, and it sent delegations to all World Federation of Trade Unions congresses and other international trade union conferences. Mongolian delegations to conferences sponsored by the Soviet Union and other socialist countries frequently issued communiques or statements supporting Soviet, and criticizing United States, policies.

The most important functions of Mongolian trade unions were, according to the 1973 Labor Code, [to] represent the interests of workers and employees in the realm of production, labor, life, and culture, participate in working out and realizing state plans for the development of the national economy, decide questions of the distribution and use of material and financial resources, involve workers and employees in production management, organize the socialist competition and mass technical creativity, and promote the strengthening of production and labor discipline. Together, or by agreement with enterprises, institutions, and organizations and their superior agencies, trade unions influenced labor conditions and earnings, the application of labor legislation, and the use of social consumption funds. Specifically, this meant trade unions supervised the observance of labor legislation and rules for labor protection, controlled housing and domestic services for workers and employees, and managed state social insurance as well as trade union sanatoriums, dispensaries, rest homes, and cultural and sports institutions. In practice, the major function of trade unions was the administration of state social insurance and of worker health and recreation facilities.

Despite the broad rights granted to the trade union movement, not all trade union bodies carried out their stipulated functions. In a May 1987 address to the Thirteenth Congress of Mongolian Trade Unions, party general secretary Jambyn Batmonh criticized some trade union councils for being on the leash of the enterprises’ administrations, that is, emphasizing the fulfillment of plans while neglecting labor productivity and substandard working and living conditions. Batmonh also called on enterprises and their supervisory government bodies to observe labor laws strictly and not to oppose the legitimate demands of trade union groups.