Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Decree Forces Unions to Fight for Members

Russian trade unions will have to reform and fight for membership as a result of a presidential decree taking control of Russia's social security funds, labor officials said Wednesday.

Some officials said that the new decree will trigger a battle for members between different sections of Russia's trade union movement and could lead to more effective labor unions that lobby harder for better pay and conditions.

"Unions will now have to attract members by lobbying on their behalf, and not by handing out social security benefits in return for their membership", said Yury Mamedov, deputy chairman of the Miner's Independent Union.

A presidential decree on Sept. 28 appointed bureaucrats to run the workers social security fund, which had previously been managed by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia that claims to represent over 50 million members, or 70 percent of Russia's work force.

The federation inherited the membership of the official communist unions which disbanded in 1991. New unions formed since 1989 outside the federation have accused it of using control of the social security fund to maintain its own power, denying benefits to non-federation members.

The new unions, especially miners and air traffic controllers, have begun to act as Western-style trade unions, disagreeing with management, actively lobbying for better pay and conditions and organizing successful strikes.

Sergei Khramov, chairman of the Sotsprof association that unites nine new unions in such companies as Uralmash, the First Moscow Watch Factory and the Moscow metro welcomed the end of the federation's hold over the fund.

Khramov said that his organizations will start drafting campaigns to increase membership once the process of transferring the government starts handling the social security.

"I expect a sharp reduction of the federation's membership when workers find out that it does not decide who to give benefits to", he said.

Firms pay an amount equal to 5. 4 percent of salary into the social security funds to cover employee's sick leave, vacation, pregnancy leave, income support and other benefits. This is split between local, company and federal funds.

Deputy Labor Minister Yury Shatorenko, the government's new appointee as acting director of the federal fund, said in an interview that in the first six months of 1993 the social security funds collected 455 billion rubles ($380 million) and spent 380 billion in benefits.

According to Yeltsin's decree, the government will nominate the managers of the funds at all levels, and unions can express their opinions on the management at board sessions. Shatorenko said that the federation would not receive a seat on the board of the fund.

Igor Klochkov, who was the federation's chairman until his resignation last Thursday, had spoken repeatedly against the government's economic reform policy and in support of the dissolved parliament.

Alexander Segal, a spokesman for the federation said Wednesday that the federation does not view the decree as a crucial factor for the size of its membership.

"The federation's popularity will depend on whether it will be able to establish proper labor relations", Segal said.