Global Unions

Russian unions conference on agency work bill

On December 19-20, the Russian national centres FNPR and KTR hosted a conference in Moscow, supported by FES and ILO, on the bill currently before the Duma on banning agency work (program attached). The objectives of the conference were to:

* State the trade union agenda to prevent use of agency labour and the spread of precarious work
* Promote the draft law
* Launch a national trade union campaign for sustainable employment.

Introductory speeches were made by Mikhail Shmakov, Chairman of FNPR and Boris Kravchenko, President of KTR and the sponsors of the bill Mikhail Tarasenko (President of IMF affiliate MMWU) and Andrey Issaev (Chair of the State Duma Committee on labour and social policy).

Shmakov stated FNPR’s full support for the bill to ban agency labour and its aim to ban all triangular relationships. He drew parallels between agency labour and prostitution and said that international conventions against trafficking should apply to it. He argued that agency labour cannot be recognized as an economic activity under the Russian constitution, since it does not bring workers together with the means of production, but separates them from it. He stated that United Russia continues to support the bill, as do the communists, Just Russia and even the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia – unions should hold them to these promises.

Kravchenko stressed the powerful forces that are trying to legalise agency labour in Russia. Agency work is a serious threat to employment and will jeopardize millions of jobs that will be pushed into precariousness, threatening social stability in Russia. The biggest players are the biggest agencies like Manpower which legalization will allow to triple their income.

Tarasenko considers the bill to be moderate. It requires consensus which is why they minimized their requirements and proposed amendments to existing bills. It distinguishes outsourcing of functions such as cleaning, which is OK, from daily provision of workers by agencies which treats workers as a commodity. The American Chamber of Commerce is lobbying fiercely, saying that the bill threatens Russia’s admission to the WTO (evidently it didn’t). Countries that have experienced agency labour, like Germany, are saying don’t allow it.

Issaev said that there had been a huge campaign hostile to the bill in the mass media. Some of the myths perpetrated included that banning agency labour will allow worse forms of flexible labour to flourish (yet the worse forms cited are already banned in Russia eg bogus self-employment and work without a contract). Also that many people currently employed as agency workers (70,000 according to the agencies) will lose these jobs, but the bill excludes categories such as students, pensioners and ‘housewives’ who have casual employment from time to time. Contracts for services for a specified period of time are also excluded (and therefore allowed). The bill will include an exhaustive list of all the excluded categories. ¾ of the factions in the Duma supported the first reading and they are hoping for their support in the 2nd and 3rd reading. The bill is still subject to amendments, although they hope that these will leave its essence intact. They need to keep up the campaign and start an international campaign against agency labour.

In the plenary discussion following these introductions there seemed to be different views about the bill’s prospects. Shmakov stated that United Russia will support the bill and therefore no additional pressure is needed in principle. Others thought that specific actions should be taken by unions in support of the bill and workshops on the second day developed proposals for these. There were also fears that the bill will be amended out of all recognition and that the exemptions will be so broad as to encompass most of agency work. There was also a realistic understanding that even if the bill is passed in the best possible form, there will be problems with enforcement and with employers finding ways around it, as there is currently with many other good laws. There was concern that ratification of ILO Convention 181 on agency work would open the door to its legalization in Russia. There was consensus that Russia should not ratify it.

Several international speakers had been invited to talk about agency work from a global perspective. Jenny Holcroft spoke on the IMF’s campaign against precarious work, the work of the global unions on agency employment, including at the ILO, and the difficulties faced by affiliates in confronting the abuses created by agency work (ppt attached).

Workshops on the second day produced concrete decisions on actions to be taken by Russian unions in support of the bill. These include political support, legal support, communications and involving workers at shopfloor level.

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IMF - Mobilising against precarious work

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