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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Traders Slam Cash Register Law

Several hundred Moscow open-air market vendors staged a protest in downtown Moscow on Tuesday against a government order forcing them to start using cash registers or face heavy fines.

"My husband, a factory worker, is not being paid at all, and the 50 or so rubles I bring in profits at the end of the day is our family's only income," said Natalya Katysheva, a vendor of towels and clothes a small outdoor market in southeastern Moscow. "If I have to buy a cash register for 2,000 rubles ($128), I will just go out of business."

The order, signed by Acting Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on Sept. 3, came as part of the government's efforts to crack down on tax evasion. It gave all vendors, including those trading from open-air stalls, until Nov. 15 to get a cash register or be fined.

Viktor Langman, an official with Moscow city department for consumer goods and services, said the city had lobbied with the federal government for an exemption to be granted at least to ice-cream vendors and watermelon salesmen, but the government was adamant.

The Moscow metro recently followed the order, equipping every token vendor with a cash register and slowing down the rush hour lines for tokens. But, Langman said, many individual vendors and some of the firms that rely on street sales have held off on buying cash registers, hoping the government order would be softened or canceled. The consumer products and services department has been swamped with letters from angry traders, Langman added.

The market vendors' rally opposite the mayor's office was sponsored by Russia's Democratic Choice party, which considers small traders part of its electorate, according to Sergei Yushenkov, one of the party leaders and a State Duma deputy. Yushenkov was at the rally, sympathizing with the vendors and telling them that some regions, including Yaroslavl in central Russia and Perm in the Urals, have officially refused to implement the order.

Langman admitted that in Moscow, too, "there may be difficulties with implementing this document."

Vendors who do not get a cash register by Nov. 15 are to be fined 100 times the minimum wage, or 8,300 rubles.

Traders said that in practice, police would settle for a smaller bribe instead. But one banner at Tuesday's rally said, "We want to pay taxes, not bribes."

Some of the traders called for the government to collect an imputed tax from them, based on assumed profits, simultaneously with the annual resumption of their trading licenses. That would make cash registers unnecessary and stop police harassment, the vendors said.

The government has lately drafted bills on imputed taxes on trade, but the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, has been slow to pass them.

If the government tries to enforce the Sept. 3 order, many street vendors will not even apply for licenses, opting instead for unregulated trade and unofficial negotiations with police, protesters said.

"My family was starving two years ago before I started trading in a market," said one of the protesters, Lidia Klimova.

"After Nov. 15, I will just go to an underpass and sell sausages without a license, and I will still feed my family, but the government will not get any taxes from me at all, and not from thousands of others," Klimova said.

Sergei Gorodilin, one of the rally's organizers, said about 3 million people are involved in small-scale trade in Moscow, and for all of Russia the number is as high as 20 million.

A spokesman for the federal government, who asked not to be identified, said Tuesday that the government was aware of the implementation problems the Sept. 3 order caused.

He said there was still a chance the Nov. 15 deadline would be moved back, or at least that fines for noncompliance would not be imposed for some time.