IndustriALL Global Union, the International Labour Organization (ILO), IndustriALL affiliate the Russian Oil, Gas and Construction Workers Union (ROGWU) and the All-Russian sectoral association of employers in the oil and gas industry held an international conference in Surgut, Russia, on "Topical issue of wages in the North: international and national aspects" on 16 and 17 November.
The conference brought together about 200 representatives of government, oil and gas companies and trade unions.
The president of ROGWU, Aleksander Korchagin, noted that two thirds of the territory of Russia belongs to the north. 90 per cent of natural gas and 75 per cent of oil are produced in this area and create the basis for the Russian economy. However, despite difficult climatic conditions such as long, severe winters and low temperature, in recent years the average salary in the oil and gas regions has become equal to the average salary in Russia, causing an outflow of workers from northern areas of the country.
Sergeyus Glovackas, desk officer for Europe and Central Asia of the ILO Bureau for Workers' Activities, noted that current efforts of trade unions and their position will define the future of work, and that it is essential for workers to sign permanent contracts.
ILO experts Rafael Pils and Harri Taliga cited statistics on wages in different countries and sectors.
The conference participants discussed the structure of the minimum wage and the wage formula for northern regions. Everyone agreed that the minimum wage is a base amount, which should not include any payments, regional bonuses and coefficients. IndustriALL suggested using the term “living wage” instead of “minimum wage”, meaning the minimum income necessary for workers to meet their basic needs.
IndustriALL’s energy director, Diana Junquera Curiel, said:
“Wages have increased in countries with developing economies during the last few years, but wage growth has slowed in countries with developed economies. We see growing inequality in wages in all countries. The rich get richer and the poor poorer. Around the world there is the phenomenon of the beggar worker , who has a full-time job but remains below the poverty line. What can unions do? We should strengthen our solidarity, build international alliances, increase the coverage of membership, negotiate sectoral collective agreements. We are stronger together”.
Deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Mikhail Tarasenko told of the difficulties in promoting the just demands of workers in the legislative body. He urged participants to include in the resolution of the conference requirements not only for the authorities, but also for employers through a sectoral tariff agreement.
The participants of the conference noted that there is growing inequality between the regions of Russia where vertically integrated companies operate, and the capital Moscow, where head offices are located and pay all their taxes. If the companies paid taxes to the budget of the regions where they work, this would increase the average salary in the regions and would give an additional argument to demand the salary increases for oil and gas workers in the negotiations with employers.
Vadim Borisov, regional secretary of IndustriALL, emphasized the importance of the issue of wages:
“It is believed that the salary of workers of the oil and gas sector in Russia is high compared with wages of workers in other industries. But as soon as we begin to compare the salary of Russian oil workers with a salary of oil workers, for example, in Norway, the picture changes dramatically. Russian workers receive significantly lower wages, working in the same conditions on the same equipment. Therefore, the international aspect is very important in the discussion on decent wages”.
The conference ended with the adoption of recommendations to national authorities and employers to improve the quality of life of northerners.