ITUWA brings together 4,000 workers from the automotive and other industries. It was founded after a series of strikes at the enterprise Ford in Vsevolozhsk in 2007. Then the workers of Volkswagen, AvtoVAZ, Omsk transport machine-building plant and dozens other enterprises owned by foreign and Russian owners joined the union. On the photo ITUWA members striking at Ford in Russia, 2014, photo from the union archives.
IndustriALL Global Union strongly contests a court verdict to dissolve its Russian affiliate, the Interregional Trade Union Workers’ Association (ITUWA) for their alleged involvement in political activities and international work.
On 10 January, the local court of Saint Petersburg, Russia, ruled that ITUWA should be liquidated claiming the union conducted political activities and received foreign funds.
According to the prosecutor’s office, the union demanded changes in the national labour legislation, referring to ITUWA’s online collection of signatures in support of the modifications on the Labour Code. In fact, ITUWA had promoted a public petition on the indexation of salaries of employees in private companies in accordance with inflation. IndustriALL believes this is clearly one of the ways to protect its members’ interests and therefore dismisses the accusation of the prosecutor.
In addition, the court considered that ITUWA was getting involved in politics, after the union criticized the socioeconomic policy of the state authorities on its website. The judge also considered ITUWA’s solidarity with Russian truck drivers protesting against tax increases as an example of ITUWA activities not complying with its trade union status. IndustriALL believes this decision of the court sets a very dangerous precedent preventing ITUWA and other union members to openly express their internal and inter-union solidarity and therefore is in violation of internationally recognized freedom of association principles.
The court also questioned ITUWA’s multi-sectorial presence across Russia, saying the union was failing to clearly define the scope of its sectors and geographical membership. According to the ILO Convention 87 every union has the right to decide itself of its organizing structure and therefore once again the decision of the court is blocking the implementation of the ILO Convention on the territory of Russian Federation.
In 2015 and 2016 the union carried out a number of training workshops with assistance of IndustriALL Global Union. The judge believes that this behavior of the union is in discrepancy with their statutory activities and therefore the organization must be treated not as a trade union according to the national law on trade unions, but as a non-governmental organization exercising political work in Russia with assistance from abroad. Such an organization is considered as a “foreign agent” and must undergo a special registration. This was shown to be one the arguments of the judge on dissolution of ITUWA.
IndustriALL shares ITUWA and its national center KTR, a member of ITUC, concerns that the decision of the court is unprecedented. For the first time the trade union came under the law on foreign agents because of funding from abroad, which applies in Russia to not-for-profit organizations, but so far has never applied to trade unions.
IndustriALL believes the verdict heralds the review of all trade union work and threatens their very existence in the country.
The conflict arose in the summer of 2017 when in violation of the national legislation the Saint-Petersburg Prosecutor's office demanded the list of union members, but failed and conducted several inspections that eventually led to the court proceeding.
Now the union has one month to appeal the decision. ITUWA’s activists will seek justice and are ready to reach the Supreme Court.
Alexey Etmanov, president of ITUWA, said,
“ITUWA’s dissolution will not affect trade union work as the primary organizations are separate legal entities that can create a new organization. We count on support from the affiliates of the global unions, particularly in Russia and the CIS region, Russian trade union centres and the international community.”
Valter Sanches, IndustriALL Global Union general secretary, commented,
“We are shocked to learn about this unprecedented decision of the Russian authorities. This court decision is in clear violation of the ILO Convention № 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize ratified by the Russian Federation.”
“We stand in solidarity with ITUWA and ask all of our affiliates in the region, especially in Russia, to join us.”
“We expect the Supreme Court to review and reverse the local court decision to dissolve ITUWA. In the same time, we will support all ITUWA legitimate actions aimed to normalize the situation and ensure continuation of their union work.”