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Voestalpine workers in Russia resign over poor wages and conditions

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23 August, 2012Voestalpine workers in Yarcevo, Smolensk area, Russia, took an extreme step in the ongoing industrial dispute: 12 out of 18 field engineers resigned collectively, while simultaneously putting forward a list of demands to the management. According to the workers, this is the only way to stop the persistent degradation of working conditions.

On 9 August, 12 out of 18 field engineers at Voestalpine in Yarcevo, Smolensk area, Russia, wrote letters of resignation and simultaneously put a list of demands to the management.

Each of the 12 field engineers has worked at Voestalpine for more than 10 years. In fact, it is virtually impossible to replace these workers quickly, since their job demands high levels of skills and experience. What’s more, it is the peak time at Voestalpine and the customers’ demand for its production is at its highest levels.

“There’s no one to replace field engineers in this shop. The work is quite specific and demands years of preparation. The workers are determined to fight until the end. Their dismissal could stop the production at the plant and disrupt the delivery of goods to customers,’”says Sergey Ivanov, deputy president of the Interregional Trade Union of Autoworkers (ITUA) local at Voestalpine. ITUA is affiliated to the IndustriALL Global Union.

Field engineers at Voestalpine have good reasons to protest. Their wages haven’t been raised or even adjusted according to the official inflation figures since 2008. Due to the introduction of piece-rate pay scheme in May this year, their income was reduced by 100-200 USD. They demand a salary of 1,300 USD, which is their basic salary adjusted to the inflation.

The workers also demand the introduction of an annual bonus, ‘thirteenth wage’. They claim that their colleagues at Voestalpine AG in Austria have two additional wages each year.

In late 2011, the management of Voestalpine started dismissals and hired new workers as subcontractors. On 18 January 2012 more than 100 Voestalpine workers took part in a rally against this new policy. However, the dismissals are still being conducted. More than 100 experienced workers are replaced with lower-skilled agency workers. As a result, field engineers have to do additional work.

ITUA members at the plant cite another highly controversial policy of the management – workers are forced to take vacations during the January state holidays, whereby they are effectively deprived of summer vacations.

Workers also note lack of safety equipment and poor state of the machinery at the plant.

IndustriALL Global Union sent a letter of protest to the Voestalpine general director in Yarcevo, Russia, urging him to ‘begin good-faith negotiations with the union to restore peaceful and constructive atmosphere at the plant.’

Voestalpine Arcada Profil is a leading producer of cold-rolled metal sections in Russia. The plant belongs to the Austrian TNC Voestalpine AG and employs 495 people.