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Russia: trade unions prepare for wage dispute at Volkswagen

26 April, 2019IndustriALL Global Union affiliates at the Volkswagen plant in Kaluga, Russia, have developed a joint action plan to increase their negotiating power as a stalemate with the company over wage increases is due to become a collective dispute under Russian law.

At an IndustriALL workshop on 19 and 20 April, representatives from the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (ITUWA) and the Automobile and Farm Machinery Workers' Union of Russia (AFW) at Volkswagen plant in Kaluga discussed ways to conclude a strong collective agreement, which is currently being negotiated with the employer. 

Unions insist on a 20 per cent increase in wages, arguing that Volkswagen workers' purchasing power has declined by 22 per cent in recent years due to inflation, and labour intensity has increased by at least 30 per cent. For example, currently two shifts at the plant produce the same output as three shifts three years ago. However, Volkswagen is offering a wage increase of only 2.9 per cent. 

The parties will not agree on fundamental issues until 11 May, when the three-month period provided by Russian legislation for collective bargaining expires. After that, the pending paragraphs of the collective agreement will be included in the protocol of disagreements, and a collective labour dispute will go into process. It means employees are allowed to carry out collective action in support of the negotiators' demands. 

Chair of the primary organization of AFW at Volkswagen Group Rus Alexander Abrosimov, said: 

“We have planned several scenarios of collective action in a collective labour dispute, from working precisely by the rules to a fully-fledged strike. We have also developed an information campaign, which consists of a communication strategy within the plant, as well as an external communication plan, targeting consumers.”

The trade unions have put aside their differences and now have a joint organizing campaign. As a result, both affiliates doubled their membership, covering more than 50 per cent of workers at the Kaluga plant. This allowed trade unions to initiate collective bargaining. 

ITUWA president, Dmitry Trudovoj, said,

“We found ways to bridge the gap between our trade union organizations. The workshop showed there is no fundamental difference in the ideology of trade unions at Volkswagen and allowed us to bring our positions closer together.”

Vadim Borisov, regional secretary of IndustriALL, commented:

“Here is an excellent example of how two trade union organizations, which had been in conflict for a long time, have managed to find a common language and moved from confrontation to real solidarity. We believe that joint coordinated actions will help the ITUWA and the AFW to defend workers’ just demands."