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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unions Urge Putin to Raise Wages

APPutin, background center, speaking Wednesday at a meeting with leaders of the Independent Unions Federation.��
A top union official used a meeting Wednesday with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to urge the government to encourage pay raises across the economy as part of its anti-crisis package.

Putin met Mikhail Shmakov, chairman of the Independent Unions Federation, and the group's local leaders to tell them that organized labor should do more to improve the job market. They also discussed the anti-crisis measures that the Cabinet approved last week. The government has said it will encourage a period of debate on the measures before sending them to lawmakers.

Shmakov's comments appear to reflect disgruntlement with prices that keep growing despite people's thinner wallets. "We believe a section on raising salaries has been overlooked," he said of the anti-crisis measures, RIA-Novosti reported.

Higher salaries could stimulate demand, he said, adding that the minimum monthly pay must rise by one-quarter, or about 1,000 rubles ($30), Interfax reported. A spokeswoman for the federation declined immediate comment.

The minimum monthly salary was doubled in January from last year's level to 4,330 rubles, a level that serves as a basis for calculating payments to unskilled workers and some workers who are paid from government budgets.

Opponents of pay raises, however, said that reversing the slide in salaries would complicate job creation.

"Any attempts to increase salaries through state regulation would only aggravate the situation on the labor market," said Sergei Roshchin, chief of the labor economics department at the Higher School of Economics.

Unions have already been in action over falling wages. A union at a Coca-Cola plant in the Sverdlovsk region has complained to the authorities about a reduction of bonuses for night shifts, the unions federation said in a statement dated March 13. Workers set up the union after the cut, the statement said.

Coca-Cola's Russia web site offered only an e-mail form for contacts, and a request for comment went unanswered Wednesday afternoon.

Putin called on the unions to inform people about state-funded employment programs, saying public awareness of them is low.

"I don't think it's superfluous to tell you again that the plans we are developing don't always reach the regional leaders, much less the lower ranking people," he said.

The government is planning to create 1 million temporary jobs and retrain 220,000 people or assist them in setting up a business, Putin said. The federal budget will spend 43.7 billion rubles ($1.3 billion) on the efforts this year, he said.

Unemployment as of mid-March was 2.6 percent, or 2 million people, Putin said. Another 560,000 were in line to be laid off, he said.

Putin also urged unions to do their job better by reacting to any violation of labor laws.

Unions must alert prosecutors and state labor agencies when they spot salary delays or the resurgence of "salaries in envelopes," a practice ubiquitous a few years ago that lets companies avoid paying some social taxes and allows individuals to dodge the income tax.

Unions should work with management to increase efficiency, even if it takes job cuts, Putin said. But they also should think about helping people who get the pink slip, he said, without suggesting any ways beyond informing fired workers of the state's relief programs.

"It's not that difficult and most often not that expensive," Putin said. "But such careful treatment of people will pay back a hundredfold."