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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Waiting for Payment at a Moscow Restaurant

Natasha (not her real name) began working at a popular Moscow restaurant as the administrative assistant to the general manager in August 1997.

"I wanted to open my own restaurant. I figured I could take what I learned from this job and use it when I had my own place," she said.

Natasha proved her competence quickly and by September she had become a marketing manager. She got along well with her boss, an expatriate who genuinely cared about his staff.

She wasn't making a lot of money, less than $900 per month, and worked long hours, but she says she didn't mind because she felt she was learning a lot and that her work was appreciated.

In December, however, her boss left and the problems began. There had always been delays in paying salaries, for example, but in the early part of this year, after the expatriate owners had opened a new restaurant, employees were not paid for a month.

"They said they had invested a lot of money and that we should just be patient, because [the new restaurant] would start to pay off soon," Natasha said. "But why should that be my problem? All I want is to do my work and get paid on time."

She said there were other issues as well. It became clear to her that foreign staff were being treated much better than the Russians. "A [foreign] floor manager would be paid more than a Russian with the same experience to do the same job," she said.

Natasha had wanted to leave since January, and she now says she should have, but didn't for a combination of reasons. First, there was the inertia that comes with a job, even a bad one. Second, because of delays in payments, there was always the fear that she would not be paid for work she had already done. And finally, the restaurant kept managing to come up with enough money just in time to keep her from calling it quits.

By the end of July, however, Natasha had reached the end of her patience. "They didn't pay us at all forJuly," she said. "And when we asked about it they said there had been an accounting mistake and they had 'forgotten' about salaries."

Though the restaurant promised the money would be paid shortly, Natasha had had enough and quit Aug. 17, the day the Russian government allowed the ruble to devalue, and the current crisis began.

A couple of weeks later, the owners announced they would be paying only a third of the wages owed for July, in rubles, at a rate of eight to the dollar at a time when the ruble was being traded at twice that. Previously she had always received her money in dollars.

Since then, so Natasha heard from other employees, management has announced a 25 percent pay cut across the board, saying the money would be kept as a "deposit."

"Now they're making the chef wash all the dishes, too. People are afraid if they protest they will be fired and won't be able to find another job."

Natasha said she had contacted The Moscow Times for the same reason she had hired a lawyer to look into the tax and visa violations she said were widespread at the restaurant.

"I want to make it so they can't do business here anymore. I want them to have to go home and look for a job there. This won't help me at all, but at least it will make them understand they can't treat people like this.

"This must be the only country where people can do such things and just get away with it. The restaurant is still doing a good business, most of their customers are expats and I know the owners aren't feeling the sort of pain they are inflicting on their employees.

"Because [the workers] are afraid, they know they can just exploit them even more," she said.

Shortly after the interview, after we had contacted the restaurant to verify her story, Natasha phoned. She said she had received telephone calls and no longer wanted to expose the restaurant and its owners.

She wouldn't say who had called her or if she had been threatened or offered money not to talk.