Report by Evgeny Makarov, FNPR Vice-President, National BRICS Trade Union Coordinator
National report of the Russian Federation at the 9th BRICS Trade Union Forum
St. Petersburg, October 30, 2020
I am directed by the FNPR President to deliver our national report on behalf of the trade union movement of the Russian Federation.
First of all, let me once again express our gratitude to Brazilian colleagues, from whom we took over the chairmanship of BRICS, for the very useful and comprehensive programme of the 8th Trade Union Forum held last year in Brasilia.
On behalf of all participants of the Trade Union Forum, I would also like to thank the distinguished guests and speakers who spoke during the opening session of the plenary. This is the first time that we have invited social partners to the Forum's plenary session and we are pleased to note their significant contribution.
This year has been an extraordinary one. Nevertheless, despite complications caused by the pandemic, the year of the Russian presidency is proceeding as planned. To date, more than a hundred events have been held at various BRICS sites, including those related to the labour sphere of interest and the competence of trade unions.
On October 9, trade union delegates took part in the annual meeting of BRICS Ministers of labour and employment.
As was just said by the President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Mr. Sergey Katyrin, a regular meeting of the BRICS Business Council was held recently.
This year, the Eurasian regional centre of the New Development Bank was opened in Russia, and the Bank itself continues to consider projects under way in the BRICS countries. There are many other very useful and informative meetings attesting to positive trends in the development of this global-scale association.
Despite all difficulties, the Russian chairmanship of BRICS has been very busy, although we do not have enough personal communication, and we regret that due to the force majeure circumstances we are unable to hold an in-person meeting of the Trade Union Forum as we planned a year ago.
The main thing that we had to face this year is the once unthinkable loss of working time caused by a temporary work stoppage during April-May and further restrictions on workers, not just from the risk groups.
During the most acute period of temporary suspension of work and isolation, the authorities, who decided on restrictive measures, ensured continued payment of wages to all workers.
However, as a result of such drastic measures, there has been a trend towards pay cuts, job losses and closure of a large number of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises.
It was only by the end of August that the economy partially adapted to the new realities and there were noticeable signs of activation, but since the end of September, when signs of a second wave of pandemic growth appeared, the indicators have gone down again.
Experts estimate the income loss of Russian workers due to the pandemic in the second quarter of 2020 at about 8%. The autumn result is likely to be the same.
During the pandemic there emerged a whole bunch of labour- and social problems that have not been so acute in recent years: the growth of unemployment, activation of the gray labour market and the bankruptcy of enterprises.
It would probably be wrong for me to chronicle the pandemic history in my speech and list all the circumstances that we had to deal with, especially since these circumstances are similar in each of the BRICS countries.
I will just note that the initial tactic to counter the infection in the spring and summer of this year was to distance and isolate people from each other in order to slow down the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible, regardless of possible losses to the economy. This was largely successful and allowed not to bring down the health care system. However, the losses for the economy turned out to be extensive and unacceptable.
At the current stage, the authorities have changed their tactics. Isolation and restrictions apply only to risk groups and the most likely channels of infection with the most sparing mode for operating enterprises and institutions. It is too early to assess how much this tactic is going to be more successful in terms of the pandemic, but it is already clear that it will not bring down the economy for the second time.
Trade unions in Russia have launched a series of initiatives aimed at protecting the interests of their membership and all employees during the pandemic:
- indexation of pensions for working pensioners (it is currently not done in Russia);
- restoration of unemployment insurance, which is also currently absent in Russia;
- introduction of two types of unemployment benefits:
- for those who have insufficient work experience - social benefits not lower than the subsistence minimum;
- for those having adequate length of service - not less than 50% of the average earnings lost;
- increasing unemployment benefits to the minimum subsistence budget, with the maximum benefit value raised to the amount of the average monthly accrued salary, as a permanent measure to support workers who lost their jobs (not only during a pandemic crisis).
The immediate challenge that needs to be overcome is to establish an effective legislative regulation of the forms of employment with a predominant digital component that have become more relevant in the context of the pandemic. Trade unions were directly involved in the drafting of a law on the regulation of remote employment which was introduced in the State Duma [Russian Parliament] and passed the first reading. It reflects the specifics of concluding an employment contract, issues related to the time of starting and finishing the working day, and the right to integrity of the time to rest. We hope that the bill will be passed thus allowing us to make a step forward in forming a legislative package required in the digital age.
We hope by the end of November to be able to pass the growing spread of infection without significant losses. At least, we have an understanding at all levels of social partnership how to prevent this, and we now see that the economic slowdown is not as dramatic as it was in the spring.
Along with the decline in most economic indicators, we cannot fail to note a surge of interest in digital technologies on the part of both business and Russian citizens. We register a sharp increase in the use of digital services in various areas from food delivery to the improvement of distance learning and telemedicine technologies. Active digitalisation in Russia of its financial sector, mass media, retail trade and transport sectors, which was noticeable even before the pandemic, is rapidly spreading in industry, healthcare, education and agriculture. This boost affects more and more jobs and poses new challenges to trade unions.
It should be noted that the system of social partnership, which we often talk about with pride in different forums, has proved very useful in working out consolidated decisions on supporting the economy and preserving jobs. Just to remind you, social partnership in Russia is organised from the federal level, through the industry and regional levels right down to the enterprise level.
Institutionalising the role of social partners and formalising the procedures for their interaction made it possible to avoid large-scale economic disruptions. We note that the growth of social conflicts and protest activity of employees and trade unions, although still at a high level, is less than in the crisis year 2016. This is largely the result of improved mechanisms for resolving conflicts of rights and interests through supervisory bodies, public prosecution, local authorities, courts and trade unions.
Despite the pandemic, we hope that situational variations in economic development will either pass, or national economies will adapt to the new conditions. Be that as it may, we are firm in our commitment to the ILO Decent Work Agenda and to achieving the goals of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Regarding the draft Declaration, let me note the following.
We have tried to follow the established practice keeping in mind that we address our Declarations to the heads of our States for the views of the BRICS trade unions to be taken into account.
All the proposals set out in the current Declaration are based on several key trade union ideas: support for national economies, securing employment for able-bodied population, ensuring safe and healthy working conditions, maintaining income and wage levels, support of socially disadvantaged groups of population. We note with satisfaction that these ideas, which previously were not perceived as principal, have come to the forefront during the pandemic in all countries, regardless of their internal structure, including those outside BRICS.
In our draft, we mentioned the key points from the Declaration of the BRICS Ministers of labour and employment, the full text of which is available on our website www.tufbrics.org accessible via a link in the Events section.
The final text of the Trade Union Forum Declaration will be published and sent to the BRICS leaders in due course.