Vladimir Putin: Colleagues,
We have met with the leaders of the FITU more than once. We have worked together on resolving conflicts and discussed the most important issues. But each time one and the same question arose: how similar are our basic ideas about the interests of workers and which of them are key in a market economy.
Today the creation of a civilised labour market is equally important for the government and for the trade union movement. Not endless “patching up of holes”, not a search for temporary compromises and minimum compensations, but meeting the strategic challenge of shaping a modern labour market.
It is the real state of that market that determines how well protected every worker is, how effectively the legal instruments are used and how well the trade unions perform. Not only you, the biggest organisation, but also the new trade union centres.
We are going to hear a lot today about social partnership and the responsibility of the state for the social welfare of the workers. There is much truth in these words. But I doubt that the dialogue between the two sides can today use the rhetoric of ten years ago.
Over the past years the government and the business community have produced many personalities who are able to forge truly modern, mutually beneficial partnerships with each other.
Of the two approaches – constant tug-of-war or the search for common ground – I choose the latter. I hope that we see eye-to-eye on that.
I can list the tasks I would like us to address jointly in the context of the new Russia.
One is law-based protection of the labour rights of the working people.
Another is minimising the negative impact of economic restructuring, above all a flexible employment policy with regard to the people made redundant in various sectors and at individual enterprises.
And finally, bringing labour legislation in line with modern society requirements.
We should use all these instruments not only to help effective producers and workers, but also to enhance Russia’s chances on the international labour market.
A General Agreement was signed in December between the trade unions, employers and the government. I know it was a difficult and at times nerve-racking job. Many of those present took part in it. The leader of your union has done a great deal, made a personal effort. He brought heavy pressure on the employers and on the government. But it was constructive work. And we have produced positive results. The government is also preparing its contribution to implementing the General Agreement. The problems are well-known: people’s incomes, employment, the cost of labour and social guarantees. This goes a long way to determine people’s confidence in today and tomorrow. Both we are well aware of these goals.
You rightly insist on raising the minimum wage and pay rates. That the trade unions present demands to the government is inevitable, but these demands should reflect as closely as possible the real state of affairs.
By their nature, the trade unions are a conservative force that “restrains” both the government and the excessive appetites of businesses. But this is not to say that they can put a brake on the development of economic relations.
You are well aware of the situation in the regions and of the state of our economy. To present impossible demands means to stoke up social tensions. There are a good many people who are active in this field as it is. In truth, such a stance is counter-productive, it won’t do any good to the people whose interests you defend.
I believe that the challenges trade unions face today are much broader and more substantive. We need your active role if we are to create an environment where labour is duly remunerated and leisure is duly earned.
Let me explain.
Firstly, we should all be mindful of the future trends in the flow of labour between sectors and offer training programs in the skills that the nation needs. We must take into account the real prospects of business development. And there, both the state and local government bodies have their jobs cut out for them.
But there is also another problem, and that is the direct responsibility of the employers who lay off workers. But re-employment of those they have been laid off should not be only their concern. The trade union, in defending the interests of workers, must promote the development of small enterprises and modern production. New jobs may be created at the same enterprise. The success formula here is: “responsible trade unions and the state equals responsible employers.”
Secondly, we have some unfinished business – the Labour Code. I know that the draft does not reflect all the proposals made by the trade unions. We are setting up a commission, with your participation, to resume the work on the draft. We understand that social partnership can only be successful if the interests of all parties are taken into account.
Thirdly, a huge number of people are employed at small and medium-sized private enterprises. The trade union movement there is just “waking up,” and the lack of effective labour legislation leaves them vulnerable.
But your “grand trade union” is in a position to start negotiations with employers’ associations. Businesses should learn to live with the idea that they are responsible for the people who work for them.
A market cannot be described as civilised if the workers are not paid their wages for months, while the company continues to earn a decent profit. This is equally true for all types of businesses, both state-owned and private.
I think such negotiations should be started and pursued with the same vigour as those with the government.
Control of working conditions is another area in which we count on the help of the trade unions. On the one hand, we have obsolete equipment, and on the other hand, we have modern production facilities. There is no proper monitoring and control of the state of the equipment.
The result is a high rate of injuries, a lot of accidents that lead to disabilities. You know this better than I do. Regular checks at factories must be carried out, skilled inspectors must be appointed and you should pool your efforts with the state to protect people’s interests in this respect as well.
The trade unions can also help people to find their bearings in the new market conditions.
I am referring to elementary knowledge of their rights and the workings of market mechanisms. And finally, you are in a position to conduct research and sociological studies of the problems of employment, the labour market and its structural changes.
We won’t be able to tackle all these problems without the trade unions.
It is our common task to make the economy effective, to build an economy in which people can work well and live well.
And make no mistake: the government today is interested in trade unions becoming an influential and authoritative force in society, a renewed and progressive force. We have common goals and let us move toward them together.