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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Readers on Unions, ATM Fraud, Oil Prices

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In response to "How Judges Rule," a comment by Nikita Ivanov, Nov. 15.


Ivanovs article shows clear ignorance of Russian law. In questioning the legitimacy of the trade union at McDonalds, he refers to a registration procedure in the Russian Law on Trade Unions. As a practicing lawyer, he should know the procedure for registering NGOs, including trade unions, is in fact outlined in the Law on Public Organizations. The union at McDonalds established itself in accordance with that law, which allows founding congresses of local unions to ratify a decree from a higher union body in this case the Moscow Municipal Committee of the Trade Union of Workers in Food Sales and Suppliers thereby registering itself with the higher union and automatically adopting the higher unions constitution. A local registered in this manner enjoys all the rights of a legal entity.

Unions have very good reasons to register through affiliation to higher union bodies rather than through the Justice Ministry. According to the Law on Trade Unions, trade union registration at the ministry entails simple notification and the ministry does not have the right to refuse registration. However, in practice, the law is often ignored. In one instance, in the Sverdlovsk region, all founding members were required to come as a group to the Justince Department, during working hours, to resign the registration documents. This is clearly a violation of the law by the authorities, who set impossible conditions for registration have you ever met a boss who would free all the "trade union activists" during work hours to take care of founding procedures?

Since the day of its founding congress, the McDonalds union has been harassed in a number of ways from hostile phone calls to members homes, to surveillance at work, to trumped-up disciplinary actions. The ILOs Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, which requires mandatory observance in all member states, includes the right to freedom of association. This right was willfully violated by the McDonalds management. For two years, management "recognized" the union as trouble, as evidenced by the harassment of its members, but refused to recognize the legitimate demand that it negotiate with this representative body.

After having examined all the founding documents, the judge ruled that indeed this union exists and indeed McDonalds was required by law to appeal to the union before disciplining an elected union official. Since McDonalds management refused to abide by this requirement, the disciplinary action was ruled illegal.

This court victory is extraordinary because the judge ruled in favor of this small union, confirming its existence in the court decision and upholding the rights of elected union officials. The judge followed both the letter and the intent of the law.

Irene Stevenson
Representative of the AFL-CIO in Moscow


I am writing to support Yevgeny Druzhinin and other union members at the McDonalds factory in Moscow, who were so wrongly and unfairly mixed by Ivanov with "communists and nationalists."

In addition to a number of unprofessional statements concerning Russian labor legislation, Ivanov made the point that the court ruled in favor of the union in accordance with a so-called proletarian sense of justice. It would be interesting to know what Ivanov would say about dozens of cases that workers have won against McDonalds in many countries, including those that did not experience this "70-year-old tradition of administering justice." To cite examples, in France in 1994 10 McDonalds managers were arrested for infringing trade-union rights. In other cases, courts have ruled against McDonalds in France, Italy, Germany and other countries.

McDonalds is a multinational corporation, which puts profit above social responsibility. It is called to account all over the world by human rights activists for violations of workers rights; by medical experts for unsafe food; by psychiatrists for aggressive advertising designed to manipulate children; by environmentalists for ecological damage.

It is correct to say 70 years of the Soviet regime influenced the mentality of the Russian people. Seventy years of administering journalism also cannot be eradicated in just a few years and Ivanov tries to use the old Soviet journalism trick of "labeling" his enemies. He tries to mix all union supporters together with nationalists.

The judge, who made a fair decision according to the law and despite McDonalds $2 billion, image-creating advertising, is contributing to the formation of a democratic state where the law rules, not money. Workers who stand up for their rights against anti-human labor relations form part of the movement for social and industrial democracy.

Kirill Buketov
International Union of Food and Allied Workers' Associations (IUF)


I found Ivanovs article about old legal habits among todays judges interesting. His example concerning the refusal to register Omsks gay rights group Parus by the local judges is a striking picture of homophobic prejudices.

Such things still happen despite the fact the anti-sodomy paragraph of the Criminal Code has long been rescinded and now, legally speaking, the position of Russian gays and lesbians is one of the best in the world. Only rape is punished and the penalty is the same for gays, lesbians and heterosexuals, and the age of consent is only 14! I hope your article will help Parus when they appeal their case to the Supreme Court of Russia.

Alexander Kukharsky
Krilija Center
St. Petersburg


Ivanovs article about miscarriages of justice in Russia seems to imply this could not happen elsewhere.

Obviously, we only need to refer Ivanov to the case of a Russian actress in France suing for her daughters custody. She was denied an interpreter, which is a fundamental right of a foreigner suing in any country. Or how about England, where people who try to expose lies in media reporting are sued for libel and are ruined financially. In this context, Russias examples do not seem so surprising.

Alex Smirnitski
Charlotte, North Carolina

Norilsk Contamination

In response to "Harnessing the North," Nov. 28.


I enjoyed reading your article and thought you made some very good points. I do, however, take exception to the way you disregarded that Norilsk is probably one of the ecological catastrophes of the North as well. The scale of industrial waste released over the past few decades has decimated the local environment and is sure to have repercussions for generations, both in human and in environmental terms.

Phil McCaul
Hickory, North Carolina

Holding Pens Typical

In response to "Immigrant-Friendly 'Holding Pens'," Nov. 29.


Your article regarding the Russian Federations "final solution in-reverse" strikes me as a typical Russian governmental response to its problems. Instead of working to resolve the root of the problem, it always tries to correct the result.

The answer to just about all of Russias problems is prosperity. They want to reverse the declining population? Give that population a reason to live, metaphorically speaking.

"Holding pens?" Take a look at the crumbling cities throughout Russia, that is where holding pens already exist, holding a population that is anxious to work, if only an economy was in place to provide meaningful and profitable work

Richard Klein
Seattle, Washington

Maestro Bachmann

In response to "Maestro Plays for Moscow," a review by Raymond Stults, Nov. 24.


I was startled by Stults claim that "Moscow orchestras seldom have a chance to work with foreign conductors of the highest caliber."

The Moscow Times seems to have missed the concert of the Russian National Orchestra on Nov. 6, where Robert Bachmann conducted the world premiere of a critical new edition of Anton Bruckners Ninth Symphony, including the Russian premiere of the newly completed "unfinished" fourth movement. I had been invited to this concert because I am the editor of this Bruckner edition and I was deeply impressed by the outstanding performance of this symphony. Bachmann is one of the most capable Bruckner conductors I have ever heard and the RNO produced a very sensitive sound. The hall was full and the concert was a tremendous success.

Benjamin Gunnar Cohrs
Bremen, Germany

Sberbank ATM Cards

In response to "Bank Card Bandits Hit Again At ATMs," Oct. 31.


We agree with you that the subject of your article is extremely important. Sberbank of Russia devotes particular concern to the security of bank card operations. However, the managers of Sberbank feel it is necessary to point out some incorrect information that appeared in your article.

First, the article implies that Sberbank ATMs were used to withdraw foreign currency. In reality, Sberbanks ATMs, working on the Visa and Europay/Mastercard systems, issue only Russian rubles.

Second, we are not able to confirm the unsupported claim made by one employee of Independent Media that there have been repeated incidents in which ATMs declined to dispense cash because of "technical problems" and then charged the requested amount to the account anyway. Sberbank specialists undertake all necessary measures to preclude the possibility of wrongful deductions from cardholder accounts in the event of technical difficulties.

In the first nine months of 2000, Sberbank ATMs performed 230,000 operations for cardholders using cards issued by other banks for a total sum of more than 670 million rubles. During this period, we have received no complaints regarding illegal or inaccurate withdrawals from any such accounts.

We are concerned by the mistaken information in your article and fear such publications may harm the business reputation of Sberbank. Therefore, we are always prepared to speak to your reporters and to provide you with objective information concerning this important matter.

Vyacheslav Kornyev
Public Relations Director
Sberbank of Russia

Visa Gives Advice

In response to "Candy From a Baby," a letter to the editor, Nov. 11.


On behalf of Visa International, I would like to point out that fraud is one of Visas priority concerns as it affects both our cardholders and our member banks.

In his letter, Hans Reiser alleges that "the whole system is designed by Visa and the banks to minimize the scandal." In fact, before a bank becomes a Visa member, we undertake a detailed investigation into the banks history, its financial situation and operations. It is a well-developed and reliable system that makes it possible for us to identify exposures to fraud and to protect our system against fraud. Once a bank becomes a member, if Visa has any suspicions of fraudulent activity we immediately conduct an investigation.

One example of how we have acted in the past to protect our cardholders against fraud was the shutdown of one- third of the Russian ATM network last year during our investigation into fraud.

We have already developed a number of successful fraud-prevention programs in Central Europe. We do not give exact fraud figures for each particular market as these figures would be of interest to criminals. However, the worldwide level of fraud is quite low $0.08 to every $100.

Our fight against fraud will be more successful if our member banks and cardholders work together to combat fraud. There are steps all of us can take to help avoid fraud, including:

oMemorize your PIN code and never write it down or tell it to other people.

oNever leave your card anywhere and never allow a waiter or salesperson to take away the card for a long time.

oWhile paying with a plastic card, never throw away the receipt because it has the card number on it and could be used by swindlers for online purchases.

oWhen signing a bill in a restaurant, make sure it has the right card number, not somebody elses and that you are in agreement with the amount of money for which you are signing.

oIf the card is lost or stolen, call the bank-issuer immediately and block the card.

Additionally, every member bank has a risk-management department that monitors all plastic-card transactions and informs cardholders about any extraordinary transactions carried out with their plastic cards.

We take our responsibility to provide our cardholders and member banks with a secure transaction environment very seriously indeed.

Lou Naumovski
General Manager
Visa International Russia

Appraising Crude Oil

In response to "Report: Oil Evades $9Bln in Taxes," Nov. 29.


Oil companies that experience shortages of their own crude oil resources must buy crude from other companies in order to process it at their refineries. Normally, they buy it from companies whose production capacity is higher than their refining capacity. The existing prices for such crude oil do not make it possible to profit from crude-oil processing. The effect is either zero or negative. In order to compensate the losses, the companies that buy crude oil are forced to establish transfer pricing for their own crude supplied to their own refineries. In such a way, they manage to get positive processing effectiveness on average. This profit can be used to increase oil production, develop new oil fields and rehabilitate old ones, reconstruct and revamp refining capacities, develop a retail sale network of oil products, etc.

At present, it is extremely difficult to determine the domestic market price of crude oil delivered to Russian refineries. The price depends on which refinery orders the oil. Different refineries use different technological processes and consequently have different output of oil products, sales markets, etc.

With regard to the Saratov refinery mentioned in your article, it never belonged to Slavneft. Sidanco owns it. This refinery was taken as an example of one with outdated equipment in order to demonstrate that there are both modern and old-fashioned works. Consequently, the prices of crude oil supplied to these refineries are bound to be different. This is precisely why it is so difficult to determine the domestic market price of crude oil.

Alexander Bury
Press Office Director