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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unions Plan Walkout Over Wages

Up to 20 million workers may walk off their jobs Nov. 5 in a one-day warning strike to signal their determination to recover 42.8 trillion rubles ($7.9 billion) in unpaid wages, union officials said Wednesday.

According to Vladimir Korneyev, a specialist in the information department of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, or FNPR, about a third of the union federation's estimated 50 million members have so far committed to participating in the action.

As well as workers in branches of the civil economy, this number will also include the 850,000 civilian employees of the Russian armed forces.

In addition to downing tools in enterprises and installations across the country, measures taken in the capital will include picketing of government buildings by local workers and groups arriving from St. Petersburg and other towns, cities and regions of the country.

Korneyev said the action would proceed despite pleas from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who met with the FNPR chairman, Mikhail Shmakov, on Monday to appeal for calm.

"Normally calm and controlled processes often become uncontrollable in Russia," Itar-Tass quoted him saying.

Despite the premier's pledge to clear the 1 trillion rubles owed to workers from the federal budget by the end of the year, the FNPR continues to take a skeptical line on such assurances.

"Pledges of this kind have always been abundant," said Shmakov after the meeting with Chernomyrdin. The federation chairman restated his organization's intent to stage the one-day action, which would only be called off if Russian workers had by Tuesday received a staggering 42.8 trillion rubles of back pay -- the 1 trillion from the federal budget, 7 trillion at the regional government level, and 33 trillion in the private sector.

Although widescale non-payment of wages seems to have become an intractable part of the Russian economy, some independent experts have indicated that the issue may now be reaching breaking point.

According to Yaroslav Lissovolik of the Russian-European Center for Economic Policy, the regional elections now taking place across Russia could mean good news for workers. Anxious for voter support, the federal government could finally be forced to tackle federal and regional budget debts to workers.

"I think that since the prime minister has already made a commitment, the government will now try to solve this problem, especially in view of the growing importance of social issues," said Lissovolik on Wednesday, speaking of the current intensity of the payment debate in the State Duma and in discussions of the 1997 budget.

Tuesday's planned action will significantly escalate the rising national incidence of strike action.

Due to a pre-election increase in wage payments by the government, strikes reached a June low when, according to Lissovolik, an average of 2,400 workers were on strike in Russia at any given time. In September, the figure reached 48,000. This trend reflected the FNPR's claim of a 17 percent leap in wage arrears in September alone.

FNPR spokesman Korneyev said Wednesday that the prime minister and Shmakov have agreed to convene a special session of trade union representatives and the finance and economics ministries on or before Nov. 5 to discuss measures to clear wage arrears.

However, he confirmed that the strike action would still go ahead, unless the back-pay demands of the FNPR were met in full.