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IndustriALL in the CIS region - unified front against attacks on workers' rights

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7 September, 2015IndustriALL has 50 affiliates in the CIS region. In a region torn by political conflicts and attacks on workers’ rights, working together is the key to successful trade unions. Unity was a central theme to the discussions at IndustriALL’s sub-regional meeting in Moldova on 3 – 4 September.  

On 3 – 4 September, a sub-regional meeting of the CIS unions was held in Chisinau, Moldova. Leaders of 21 IndustriALL affiliates from five countries of the region discussed the developments since the last regional conference in May 2014, and identified priorities for further actions.   

Mikhail Khynku, vice-chair of the National Trade Union Confederation of Moldova, opened the meeting and told the participants about the confederation structure, its action towards creating labour tribunals and its work on the draft law on informal economy. Ion Pyrgaru, chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Communications Workers of Moldova, welcomed all participants to Moldova. 

IndustriALL Global Union general secretary Jyrki Raina reminded the participants about the five strategic goals of IndustriALL, including organizing, creation of union networks, protection of union rights, struggle against precarious work, and sustainable industrial policy. He also spoke about the preparation of IndustriALL’s second congress that will take place in Rio-de-Janeiro, Brazil in October 2016.

Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary, noted the importance of organizing and mentioned that 40 percent of workers around the globe work in the informal economy. Among 60 percent of workers that are employed in the formal economy, and only 11.5 per cent are unionized. In total out of 2.9 billion workers around the world, only 7 per cent are unionized, and this is not sufficient for effectively challenging the system which creates problems for the working people.

Union capacity building and creation of strong unions at the national level are important measures,

said Kemal Özkan.

Vadim Borisov, IndustriALL regional representative, emphasized that Kyrgyzstan and Georgia are the priority countries for organizing. He also presented the events held in the region from May 2014 till August 2015 and spoke about the actions planned until the end of the year, including a global flash mob planned for 7 October on the World Day for Decent Work.

Leaders of the CIS unions noted that workers’ rights are under attack across the region.

IndustriALL affiliates from Belarus spoke about the vicious system of short-term employment contracts affecting the majority of workers, about the recent legal reduction of notification term on dismissal from one month to one week, about Decree №5 which allows to deprive workers of a bonus for a year in contrast with one month, as it used to be.

Union leaders emphasized that it is important for the Belorussian unions to get the recognition of the trade union rights and of the freedom of association. For several years, unions in Belarus were deprived of the opportunity to carry out actions on 7 October as the World Day for Decent Work, since the state authorities never approved their requests. In these circumstances, union organizing as it works in other countries in the region, is not possible in Belarus. 

Eldar Tadzhibaev, chairman of the Mining and Metallurgy Trade Union of Kyrgyzstan, spoke about the numerous attempts of the government since 2012 to reform the labor legislation at the expense of the workers’ rights. Within the last three years, there were attempts to introduce the provision in the Labour Code that entitles the employer to sign employment contracts with workers specifying any ground for dismissal, to impose criminal liability of workers for stopping an enterprise operations, to cancel extra payments for the overtime and night work. Thanks to the campaigns and the international solidarity these attempts to amend the Labour Code were stopped.

Eldar Tadzhibaev also presented the reforms in his union leading to the centralization and strengthening of the central committee. For instance, now if a representative of the central committee is present at the meeting of the local union, he also presides, however, he can authorize the local union chairman to conduct the meeting. The requirements to the candidate for the union chairman position have also changed: he has to be not older than 65 years, have experience as a leader of the same union for at least 5 years and can not be elected for more than two consecutive terms. Finances were also centralized: now 100 per cent of membership fees are paid to the central committee and 60 percent return to the local union. The newly created local unions pay 100 per cent of the membership fees to the central committee and then get certain amounts for particular actions.

Alexey Etmanov, chairman of ITUWA, told the participants about the reform in his union on the creation of regional local unions instead of the local unions at the enterprises. There are four regional unions at the moment, including the ones in the Leningrad region and in the Kaluga region of Russia. 80 per cent of the membership fees remain in the region and are being used at different enterprises depending on the decision of the union committee. 20 per cent of the membership fees are transferred to the central committee. Thanks to this reform the union now has more opportunities. The union activists and coordinators act outside the enterprises that deprives the employer of the chance to put pressure and manipulate. Moreover, if a worker changes his job and moves from one automotive plant to another within the region, he keeps his union membership. 

Alexey Etmanov also mentioned that the employers in Russia have changed the attitude towards the unions as a result of the decrease in the automobile production. Employers now consider a trade union as an ally through whom it is possible to raise their suggestions on a number of measures which can mitigate the crisis effects in automotive industry.

The chairman of the Russian Independent Coal Employees' Union Ivan Mokhnachuk spoke about the coal mining industry of Russia and his union activities and achievements in occupational safety issues. Alexey Bezymyannykh, Chairman of the Miners' & Metallurgical Workers' Union of Russia, noted that union mergers to create union federations will make the unions stronger.

The affiliates from Ukraine told about the difficult social and economic situation in the country. According to Vasily Dudnik, chairman of the Automobile and Agricultural Machinery Workers Union of Ukraine, the GDP of Ukraine decreased by 16 per cent in the first six months of 2015, and the industrial production was reduced by 22 per cent. Wage arrears have sharply increased, and the real salary decreased by three times since the beginning of 2014 because of devaluation of national currency. There is a freezing of wages, social payments and pensions, and a simultaneous increase in utility bills.

Mikhail Volynets, chairman of the Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners of Ukraine, emphasized that there is no social dialogue in Ukraine at the moment. He also told the participants that in July the parliament approved a draft law on the state registration of noncommercial organizations, which changes the procedure of trade unions registration. Instead of notification on the trade union creation, the union registration now needs to be approved by the authorities. This draft law not only contradicts the Constitution of Ukraine, which mentions that the trade unions are created without preliminary consent, but also to the international legal acts ratified by Ukraine, including the ILO Convention No. 87 "Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise". Adoption of this draft law could lead to a situation where many trade unions won't be registered at all.

Sergey Komyshev, chairman of the Metallurgical and Mining Industry Workers Union of Ukraine (PMGU), said that the front line in Donetsk and Lugansk regions has separated the regional unions into two parts. Half of the 120,000 union members of the PMGU Donetsk regional union and the entire amount of the 30,000 members of the PMGU Lugansk regional union are working in the territory not controlled by Kiev. Nevertheless all these workers keep their membership in PMGU. The enterprises working at the uncontrollable territory continue to pay income tax and social contributions to Kiev, however the workers get neither pensions, nor social benefits from the state, including those in the case of a fatality. The union has independently investigated the fatalities, and the state promised that when the military operations are over, the families of workers who were killed at the work place would receive the payments due to them.

Summing up the meeting results, Kemal Özkan noted that the trade union rights, such as the freedom of association, the right to bargain collectively, and the right to strike are under threat around the world. He expressed concerns about Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan where the activity of affiliates at the international level decreases.

IndustriALL has 50 affiliates in the CIS region. It is important to act together and to exchange information between the affiliates and to continue hold conferences to form a common opinion.

Organizing is key to building union power and it has to be the priority activity of trade unions. IndustriALL will continue to do its best to improve workers’ life!