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GFAs – a tool for union influence in Russia?

12 November, 2015Global framework agreements (GFA) are an important tool in guaranteeing fundamental workers’ rights, not only in the country where multinational companies (MNC) are headquartered, but also at production facilities along the global supply chain. On 10 November, an international roundtable was held in Moscow, Russia, to discuss whether these agreements could be an additional tool in developing social dialogue in the country. 

Helmut Lense, IndustriALL Global Union automotive director, described the content of GFAs and also mentioned the issues outside the scope of GFA, such as conflicts during tariff agreement bargaining, staff layoff due to economic reasons, shutdowns of enterprises, taking disciplinary action against employees.

“A GFA is not a cure-all, but a way to start a discussion on human and trade union rights – it is a first step for the company to declare its readiness to recognize these around the world. But there has to be further steps for the GFA to become more than a document.

“As a second step, the headquarters unions and local unions have to cooperate closely within the union network to make sure the GFA is implemented around the world. The union network is very important as a way to exchange contacts and information.”

Discussing the fear among Russian unions that work councils may weaken or replace trade unions, the ILO chief specialist on labour inspectorates and social dialogue, Valentin Mocanu said:

“The ILO has developed a set of principles that specify the importance of tripartite social dialogue and the use of all available tools to improve working conditions. Different models exist in different countries. Maybe this tool does not fit here right now, but it should not be ignored as works councils work really well in Germany and France. It can be a tool to develop social dialogue.”

Vadim Borisov, regional representative of IndustriALL in Moscow noted that the majority of IndustriALL’s 48 GFAs are signed with European multinationals.

“And many of these agreements are signed with companies based in Germany. This shows the power of the union as someone who initiates social dialogue and pushes the employer to recognize the union as an equal social partner.”

Oleg Sokolov, FNPR, Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, secretary, said that complex supply chains and companies’ ability to quickly move production lines to a different country means that it is difficult for unions to influence at a local level and that national tools are often limited:

“This makes GFAs very important in putting pressure on global capital. It is necessary to specify carefully the GFA procedures and implementation mechanisms.

Summing up the results of the meeting, Rudolf Traum-Mertz, head of FES in Russia, said that GFAs are a supportive tool and that local unions in the company’s home country must mobilize to get results.

Participants agreed that GFAs cannot be implemented without a trade union network, and that the next discussion on GFAs in Russia needs to involve the participation of employers and governmental agencies.

IndustriALL, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES), the Center for Social and Labour Rights and the ILO Moscow Office organized the event. Among the three dozen participants were representatives of Russian unions, including the Automobile and Farm Machinery Workers' Union of Russia, Rosprofmash and MMWU, as well as union representatives from Ford and Renault, who shared their international experience of GFAs implementation.