From LABOR-L@YORKU.CA Tue Jul 31 22:29:58 2001
Date: Tue, 31 Jul 2001 21:14:53 EDT
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YORKU.CA>
Subject: Benefits of the Market Democracy for Russia: 58 hour week, wages in kind

from International Solidarity with Workers in Russia—
ISWoR web-site—

The New Labor Codex. What does it mean?

By Oleg Shein, Russia Info-List, 31 July 2001

On the 5th of July the State Duma adopted the new Labor Code on the first reading. It's not important what corrections are made in the second reading and what is allowed to stand. No one knows this. The experience of the adoption of other legislation demonstrates that nothing important will manage to change, regardless.

What does the new Codex bring to the Workers?

To begin with, all but state employees will be converted to fixed term contracts. The following is verbatim: “fixed term contracts are concluded for carrying out work, concerning admittedly temporary (up to 2 years) extension of the amount of services offered”. Under the conditions of the market economy, the extension of production by any firm is temporary. Today a construction company builds a house on Kerchensky street, and hires workers for this purpose. Tomorrow—a house on Krasnogvardeisky street, and hiring begins anew. The same in a factory producing concrete or cement. And for machine manufacture, transportation, light industry? In those cases the work goes from order to order, in other words, by fixed term contracts.

The workers in the theatre and journalists will be converted to fixed term contracts individually, but all 20 million working pensioners will be converted at once (this is a generally anti-constitutional procedure.) It's understood, that such a worker is an eternally dependent person. No labor negotiation will be renewed if he begins to speak his mind. Naturally, in energy or urban transport it's difficult to establish the variability of production. But there is another cudgel (’knut’ in Russian original) - reductions in force. Now that firings have been brought out from under the control of the trade unions, that is, that no agreement of the trade union for firing and layoffs is necessary. Consequently, the management of any motor depot can announce to the drivers: “Well, my friends, a reduction in force is imminent. 90 out of 100 will stay. But we will need more flexible work schedules so there is a proposal that all go voluntarily to fixed term contracts. Otherwise, the lay-offs can not be avoided.” Clearly, it's practically impossible to prove that there is no basis for reductions in court. Unfortunately, the drivers will not be able to strike. The agreement of the cleaners, bookkeepers, dispatchers and cashiers is needed for this, since according to the adopted Codex strikes are lawful only in the case where more than 50% of the entire collective votes for the strike authorization (p. 390). We may ask, will the cashiers quarrel with the management because of the conversion of the drivers to fixed term contracts? These people will also not be able to create their own union, unfortunately, since the right to an independent collective agreement only occurs in unions with the inclusion of more than half of the collective.

The director has other levers. We’ll assume, someone is found who goes to court and that something can be proven. Nothing will prevent giving this person such a schedule of shifts that he will simply leave work.

No one is in a better position that the state employees. Teachers can be fired for “disruption of regulations” (p. 335). Of course, everything can be put under regulations, that's the right of management.

In addition, the Codex intends the transition to the 58 hour working week. This is not some invention of the left, but an absolute fact. “On application of the worker”, he can work 16 hours a week extra, in addition to regular 40 hours and 2 hours overtime” (p. 96). Not in one's basic specialty, but in another. That is, leaving the lathe and going to the milling machine. There is no restriction for invalids, for women or children. One should not believe that he will be well paid for this.

Reviewing the mass media for the past week, I have not seen such lies, as about the “merits of the Codex”, since the time of the two Yeltsin elections.

The entire country is strung along, while they speak as if wages will now be above the subsistence minimum. In fact, the Codex says that such wages will be introduced only upon adoption of separate Federal legislation. The Minister of Labor A. Pochinok has already declared, that this will not happen in the coming year. Obviously, this will not happen after a year either, since the peak payment of external debts will begin. According to the same Minister in the broadcast of “Echo of Moscow”, this section of the Codex will come into force after four years, that is, not in this life, but after elections when others will be in power.

Unfortunately, wages can now be paid in kind (p. 129). And in the full amount, since the Codex Author, A. Isaev fibbed: There are no restrictions in international law or treaty whatsoever.

And for the statement that in the simple case that instead of 2/3 of the pay being in the form of “tariff” [i.e. basic wage, not bonuses or money dependent on other conditions] the employer paid 2/3 of the wage [in the latter form] , the worker would obviously have to prove the employer's guilt in court. Who is at risk in this case, no one knows.

The single merit of the draft is the penalty for withholding wages. Be the penalty is not in percent per day, as was said on the Television, but 2% per month. And yet more: if today on the day following withholding pay it's possible to reduce work, then it's only one fifteenth. It's certain that the country will have to prepare itself for new withholding of pay.

The reconciled draft received worse marks than the government's. In the government version there were a total of 5 cases of the application of overtime (here it can be for whatever reason). In the government version there was a right of workers to have representatives with a deciding vote in the Councils of Directors (here such rights are liquidated). In the government version only 1/5 of wages can be paid in kind. Finally, in the government version, the right of every union to collective bargaining with the administration is preserved, and there were no restrictions on the right to strike.

The fact is that there was an exchange. Shmakov, on the threshold of the congress of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, and in the hope of support from the Kremlin, gave away all rights of the country's trade unions and workers. In exchange for this he received a monopoly for the Federation and the legislative liquidation of most of the new trade unions. Not all of them, since some of our organizations were preserved, and have entrenched themselves for collective bargaining.

One should not, however, think that having eliminated the people's power, the authorities can celebrate the final victory. The revolution of 1917 took place exactly because it was unthinkable to have to go to courts and prosecutors to create a union. But that's exactly the decision adopted by the Duma on 5 July.