President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
I would like to begin by congratulating you on this holiday. You have already been to the demonstration; I saw it. Celebrating May Day is an old tradition of ours, an ancient one. It was celebrated in the Russian Empire, but as a holiday of spring. Later, in the 19th century it began acquiring a political nature, people would hold demonstrations on this day. But, whatever the form, and even the content, the heart of the matter remained the same. Back in tsarist Russia, this day symbolised the beginning of spring farm work – the peasants prepared for spring sowing. From the very start, this has always been essentially a day to celebrate spring and labour, which is exactly what we consider it to be now.
It is therefore not accidental that at the initiative of the leader of our trade unions we have revived the tradition of presenting the gold star of Hero of Labour of the Russian Federation on this day, as we did today as well. Five of our worthy citizens who have demonstrated outstanding achievements in their areas of activity received the Hero of Labour gold medals today.
I would like to begin our meeting by saying that being constantly in touch with our trade union Federation, we remember what needs to be done in the area of work and employment not only on such special occasions.
Being in constant contact with the leaders of the trade unions both within the tripartite commission, and beyond, we regularly return to labour issues in one way or another, to issues pertaining to working conditions and pay. As you may know, we have adopted a programme to raise wages and salaries for public-sector employees. This is not easy, I must admit, and puts strain, especially on regional budgets. Often this leaves them without funds for investment activity. We should bear this in mind.
However, despite all these difficulties that have to do, among other things, with the need to adjust our initial economic growth plans, which has an impact on revenue, the state is nevertheless on whole implementing our plans to raise salaries for public-sector employees. This, in one way or another, affects the overall salary level in the economy as a whole, both in industry and agriculture. Here we have only one way of resolving the entire set of issues facing the economy and the social sphere, which is to maintain the growth rate of the incomes of the population. We need to make sure we meet the targets primarily by raising labour productivity, without applying the so-called sweatshop practice.
Overall, we are moving ahead in this direction; however, this forward movement should be more noticeable, faster and more efficient. At the same time, the trade unions should retain one of their main jobs, possibly the main one – observing workers’ rights and labour conditions. We have discussed this with Mr Shmakov on numerous occasions, and we sometimes argue — our positions do not always coincide. This, I believe, is normal.
chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia Mikhail Shmakov: They coincide with time.
Vladimir Putin: With time, they do, possibly, but I would like to repeat that this is normal, because the trade unions try to achieve the maximum result, to best protect the interests of the working people. Though sometime, our views coincide. Take, for instance, the issue of contracted work that you have raised many times. You drew our attention to the fact that we should put an end to such practice, which, as we see, is taking place in some industries. As you may know, a corresponding law has already been passed, I believe, both by the State Duma and the Federation Council.
Remark: It only needs your signature.
Vladimir Putin: Right. I will definitely sign this and everything that has to do with such employment methods when employment agencies lease their employees, so to speak, but the rights of the workers are not observed. There may be nothing wrong with leasing the work force, but the rights of those people should be observed, there should be a contract and so forth. Overall, though, I believe we have found a solution, and we can discuss this today as well. In any case, I intend to sign the law; I will do it today, provided it is already on my desk.
To conclude my monologue, I would like to congratulate you on this holiday. I would like to express the hope that given all the discussions that we have within the tripartite commission, stormy, not to say violent, as they may sometimes become, we will continue seeking compromise, balanced solutions that would, of course, meet the interests of the workers – which is your job to ensure – but without disrupting the economy and business and would be balanced and approved by both employers and the state.
I would like to express hope that we will be able to continue our work in the same manner. Please accept once again my May Day greetings.