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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New trade unions seek financial independence

A commission of trade unions, government officials and employers may soon reach an agreement to transfer billions of dollars of social security money from one giant union back to the state.

Draft legislation to transfer the funds is already prepared and may be signed by President Boris Yeltsin soon, according to Pavel Kudyukin, a deputy minister of labor and employment and a member of the commission.

The transfer would effectively end monopolistic control of billions of dollars of social security funds that the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia has held, under various names, since the Stalin era.

But observers of the commission say it is doubtful that the transfer will happen anytime soon.

The 42-member commission, headed by State Secretary Gennady Burbulis, was launched last fall. It includes representatives of the federation, the Socialist Trade Union Association, the Independent Miner's Union and the Russian Pilot's Union.

The government side is represented by various ministry officials, while employers are represented by groups including the Russian Union of Industrialists and Businessmen, and the Congress of Russian Businessmen.

Kudyukin said the commission does not even know how much money the federation controls.

"We need a proper investigation", he said in an interview.

He expressed fears that the federation might have already begun to privatize some investments, even though he said the state privatization committee has declared this to be illegal.

Kudyukin is a member of the Socialist Trade Union Association.

Most members of the Ministry of Labor, where Kudyukin works, are members of the federation, he added.

This is mainly because the federation was the only trade union in the former Soviet Union until alternative unions began sprouting up around the time of the coal miner's strikes in 1989.

Russian workers - including managers and ministers - were de facto federation members and most remain so. This is because the federation administers 5. 4 percent of worker's salaries - about 60 billion rubles for 1992 - from a sodal security fund that used to pay for worker's benefits, like sick pay and vacations.

Since April, workers have had the legal right to join alternative trade unions and still have access to federation funds to which they have contributed during their working lives.

But leaders of the largest alternative trade unions said in interviews

that they are skeptical that they will receive funds from the federation. They also doubt the social security fund will be transferred to the government soon.

Consequently, they have begun to create their own social security funds.

For example, the pilot's union collects 1 percent of its 38, 000 member's salaries as dues; their average salary is 8, 500 rubles a month, said Eduard Buchkov, the union's chairman.

The socialist trade union, a loose association of 400, 000 professional unions, including journalists, metal and construction workers and musicians, is also financially independent from the federation.

Last year, its budget was about 11 million rubles, collected mainly through its own businesses, including a labor think tank and contributions from various employers, said Dmitry Simyonov, the socialist union's chairman, who also heads a government commission on unemployment insurance.

The coal miner's union is also financially independent from the federation. It even has its own bank, Rusdom Bank, which helps miners, especially those in the Arctic, who want to move to new areas to find new jobs, said Viktor Utkin, the union's chairman and a Supreme Soviet deputy.

The government donated one million hectares of land to the union last year, and about 36 Arctic cities also donated coal, petrol and diamonds for the bank to trade.

The bank's initial holdings, 300 million rubles, are "just the beginning", Utkin said.

In the meantime, the federation continues to hold on to its empire, and federation critics say it may be gearing up to create a new, hardline political party.