President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, friends and colleagues. I am very happy to have this opportunity to welcome the delegates and guests of the Congress of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia.
Mr Shmakov [Chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade unions of Russia] has already said that this is a memorable day: a year ago, the Winter Olympics opened here in Sochi. This is worth recalling also because the trade unions have always paid great attention to developing sports in this country, including mass sports. They had their own sports clubs that they supported, along with a broad network of sports facilities. I hope this practice will not be forgotten and this network, through your efforts as well, will continue to be supported and will serve people.
We achieved a great deal during the preparations for the Olympics, when our goal was to ensure their success both for the participants and for our athletes. The Games were a bright memorable event that caused a true wave of positive emotions.
Another thing I would like to draw your attention to is that the Games were also the most egalitarian ones, as it were. What I mean is that women made up almost half of all the participants. Twelve new sports made their debut at the Games, including those that are popular with young people. The Paralympic movement also demonstrated its best qualities, as well as our Paralympic athletes.
I would like to repeat that I hope the trade unions will pay significant attention to healthy living, because everything you do is for the people, dedicated to the people. Material prosperity and working conditions cannot be considered separately from a healthy lifestyle, from fitness and people feeling healthy and robust.
I would like to note that Russian trade unions generally – not only in this area, but in the social sphere generally – have been granted great authority by law in the protection of workers. No wonder the motto of your congress is Dignified labour is the basis of personal wellbeing and national development. You have an extensive agenda before you, which includes enhancing the efficiency of social partnerships – clearly, one of the most important areas.
The joint efforts of the state, employers’ associations and the trade unions are concentrated in the Russian trilateral commission for regulating social and labour relations, which has acquired even greater authority in the past years. It has become a truly effective mechanism for aligning the positions of the state, employers and employees.
In this connection, I would like to note your role in developing the activities of the trilateral commission, and the role of your leader. Mr Shmakov has done a lot to enhance the significance of the trilateral commission, he is very active, in fact at times I find him somewhat aggressive. Like now… We used to argue often when I was heading the Government. Today we are meeting in a different format, I simply came here to greet you and offer my congratulations.
However, I would like to draw your attention to a few things. For instance, the conspiracy of ‘market supporters’ and the liberals. I do not think we have a conspiracy, only a difference in approaches to social and economic development. We have always managed to find the golden mean.
The ‘invisible hand of the market’ referred to here (I keep quoting the previous speaker, like a classic) – it is noticeable, clear and quite transparent. If we look carefully at what is going on, what ‘powerful hand of the market’ can there be, if we have developed an entire system of support for individual industries, a system of incentives for, say, agriculture, or high technology businesses, both small and medium size, or for the development of individual territories? If we take the so-called project financing, it is funded directly by the Central Bank, which was criticised here. I am sure there are reasons to criticise them; however this is not pure rabid market economy, it does have some elements of regulation.
The same goes for transition to cadastral value. Here I absolutely agree with you, with the head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions: we have to watch out (I call on you specifically to do this locally – that is where it is all happening) to make sure that this transition is clear, transparent and does not have a negative impact on the public, on people.
To do nothing would also be wrong. What is a Technical Inventory Bureau valuation? It is close to zero. You all know that in real life this makes it possible for an entire cluster of economic entities, like trade companies, for example, to almost completely evade taxes, especially when they use offshore structures. Meanwhile, it is these taxes that make up the regional budgets, which in turn is why we can or cannot find solutions to social issues – solutions you are working to achieve. Therefore, we need to carefully watch what is going on, correct the authorities, and avoid shifting everything onto the worker, I absolutely agree with you here. However, we should not let the situation stagnate: change is obviously necessary.
Or take the salaries of the top managers at big companies. We have to keep a close watch here. As you may know, we have banned the ‘golden parachutes’, but we have to monitor their salaries. There is one thing we must keep in mind, though: if we want to attract the best, world-class managers to our big companies, and this is the kind we need, including those from other countries, there is a certain salary level in this segment of the labour market.
If a Russian citizen heads a company, their salary cannot be lower than that of their deputy. What is important here is to make sure there is complete transparency and the public receives explanations whenever necessary, then everything will be clear. Whenever anyone tries to conceal anything, questions arise, because it seems they must be hiding something. Here I fully agree with you – we need to bring this out into the open.
Finally, about a war waged against this country. Fortunately, there is no war. Let us not pay too much attention to this. There is, however, an attempt to restrain our development by different means, an attempt to freeze the world order that has taken shape in the past decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with one single leader at its head, who wants to remain an absolute leader, thinking he can do whatever he likes, while others can only do what they are allowed to do and only if it is in this leader’s interests. Russia would never agree to such a world order.
Maybe some like it, they want to live in a semi-occupied state, but we will not do it. However, we will not go to war with anyone either, we intend to cooperate with everyone. The attempts made, including through the so-called sanctions, do not make anyone happy in the final count, I believe. They cannot be effective when applied to such a country as ours, though they are doing us certain harm. We have to understand this and enhance our sovereignty, including economic sovereignty. Therefore, I would like to call on you to show understanding of what is going on and to cooperate with the state and the Government.
Meanwhile, the trade unions have done a lot to introduce modern methods for assessing working conditions, there are constant discussions of ways to improve the remuneration system, including for public sector employees.
I would like to stress the great role of the Federation as a reliable partner of the state in ensuring social guarantees for the working people. You are actively involved in discussing normative legal acts drafted by the Labour and Social Protection Ministry and other agencies.
Trade union representatives have always been known for their interest and concern and for their active involvement in the work of Presidential and Governmental consultative bodies. Thus, at the National Council for Professional Qualifications you are developing new professional standards together with entrepreneurs.
As you may know, the May Executive Orders set the task of bringing the number of highly qualified workers to at least one third. This is clearly a major challenge and the trade unions should keep up with the times and maintain a dialogue with employers proceeding from the understanding that advanced production facilities need experts that meet modern requirements.
Colleagues, it is very important to spread the positive experience of cooperation achieved at the federal level to the regions. We have regional trilateral commissions as well; however, they are not working effectively and performing their functions everywhere. I am sure those present are aware of this. Obviously, a lot here depends on the position of the heads of regions, but the trade unions should also be more persistent. When they are more active, the commissions usually become more productive.
We also know that not all entrepreneurs are in favour of real, productive cooperation. Sometimes they see their partnership with trade unions is a mere formality that they are forced to maintain under the law. Here I would like to stress that the state will continue supporting trade unions in their main mission of protecting the labour rights of Russian citizens. The state, the trade unions and the employers should work jointly, and only this will allow us to achieve all our goals.
Today, in these rather difficult times for this country and its economy, the work of the trilateral commissions and primary trade union organisations is of special importance.
We all realise that the labour market situation may become more complicated and the employment structure could change. We must make sure employers comply with the law and employees’ rights are not infringed on.
At the same time, your position should be constructive, devoid of any populism. Thus, it is senseless and may be damaging to stand in the way of well-planned efforts to modernise facilities and raise their efficiency. This was already mentioned here. You should be guided by common sense and the people’s real interests rather than by some ambitions.
If we do not change anything we will not be able to achieve a new quality of labour, or higher pay; we will not be able to create the required 25 million jobs. However, I would like to repeat that it is of principle importance that greater labour productivity should lead to higher incomes and better working conditions, as well as social security for those who are laid off so they can raise their qualification and find new jobs.
You and your colleagues should closely monitor these things and react in a timely fashion to direct violations of labour legislation and to a formalistic, callous attitude towards people – something our citizens still come across.
I would like to add that our trade unions should be proactive and make proposals to the anti-crisis plans that are being compiled in the regions.
Only the joint meticulous work of the state, businesses and trade unions can help us overcome the current difficulties, change the economy, retain existing jobs and create new ones, which I have already mentioned three times today, ensure the stability of production facilities and the welfare of our people and, consequently, prevent social and labour conflicts.
The agenda of your congress covers labour market development, managing professional risks, assistance in employment and stage-by-stage growth of the minimal wage. I believe you will also dwell on the role of trade unions in raising the economic growth rate, developing high technology branches of the economy and non-raw materials sectors.
All the public forces in this country should be working to achieve these goals. Your Federation has always been involved in solving Russia’s problems. I expect the trade unions to work with the same energy today as well.
In conclusion, I would like to highlight the positive role of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions in strengthening and consolidating civil society. You are fully aware how important this is for Russia, you understand that we can only move forward successfully and achieve real results in protecting Russian citizens’ social and labour rights in an atmosphere of stability and mutual understanding.
Thank you very much for your work and for your attention.
I would like to make a few remarks. I listened attentively to all the speakers. Clearly, representatives of employers and trade unions have different approaches to certain matters.
By the way, did you hear what was said here about corporate greed? About top managers’ salaries and so forth? Entrepreneurs are asking us to simplify or actually to reduce taxation. They speak of a need to improve the labour legislation, but in terms of increasing the role of employment contracts. However, we know that this may lead to employees losing their social security and rights.
Possibly, given certain conditions and guarantees on the part of the state such instruments could be possible; however, this could only be done jointly with the trade unions and provided the social rights I mentioned are guaranteed.
So, entrepreneurs want lower taxes and trade unions want higher salaries, up to 97 percent higher. My colleague asked “Why not 100 percent?” Of course, 100 would be good.
At the same time, as our colleague said here, governments are losing trust all over the world. Let that happen elsewhere. I hope that with your help our Government will not loose people’s trust. This is only possible if we work together diligently and bear in mind the interests of all the people involved in labour and in resolving social issues.
Someone also said a ‘spectre of recession’ is roaming the world. As we all know, it used to be the ‘spectre of communism’, and now it is a ‘spectre of recession’. Representatives of our traditional confessions say it is enough to turn to God and we would not fear any spectres. However, a popular saying tells us that God helps him who helps himself. Therefore, if we work hard and retain a responsible attitude to our job, we will succeed.
Thank you very much.