Monday, March 31, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Employees in Russia Face Common Forms of Discrimination as Well

Paul Goble

Baku, March 31 – In addition to widespread and often reported discrimination on ethnic grounds, employees and workers in the Russian Federation face all the kinds of discrimination found in other countries, in many cases without any awareness of what they can do to defend their rights.
Every seventh Russian says he or she has been “subjected to discrimination” of one kind or another in the workplace, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Social and Labor Rights (CSLR), but worker rights advocates say that the real share is far higher given that many Russians do not know precisely what discrimination is.
The study of 1200 workers and managers who were both polled and interviewed, “Argumenty nedeli” reported last week, was conducted in two cities, Samara, which has 1.1. million residents, in central Russia and Kemerovo, with just slightly fewer than half as many, in Siberia (
Contrary to the expectations of researchers at CSLR, the situation in the two cities was “absolutely the same,” with workers reporting, after they were pointedly asked about problems, that they faced large and similar kinds of discrimination and managers arguing that there was little or no discrimination in the workplace.
(Not surprisingly or unimportantly for the situation that exists in Russian workplaces, however, the CSLR study found that managers recalled that they had encountered discrimination when they were workers but seldom saw it now that they have been promoted to positions of responsibility over others.)
In the course of their investigation, the CSLR found that officials had an equally internally inconsistent view. “On the one hand,” labor officials, prosecutors, and judges all believe that “discrimination exists. But on the other, it is very difficult to prove,” and generally no case can be launched unless a worker makes an appeal.
Under Russian law, workers can be “discriminated” against on the basis of their experience, qualifications and abilities, but there are 15 other characteristics which cannot be used by employers to treat one worker better than another. Among these are gender, age, nationality, race, place of residence, and family status.
“Unlike most other countries,” the news weekly said in its coverage of the CSLR study, Russian law does not specifically limit discrimination to actions based on these. Instead, the relevant legislation says that discrimination exists when “other bases not connected with the business qualities of the worker” are used.
The CSLR study found that 78 percent of those saying they had encountered gender discrimination were women. In addition, 55 percent of workers under 30, and 29 percent of those over 50, said they had experienced discrimination in the workplace based on their age.
But despite the existence of such discrimination, few workers in Russia turn to the authorities for redress. Over the last three years, only one percent of workers appealed to the courts or to the Commission on Labor Disputes. Ninety percent, the CSLR said, “have never taken part in any collective action to defend the rights of workers.”
And only one Russian worker in 20 has during the last three years taken place in any trade union protest, either because the unions did not stage them, because the workers saw no utility in taking part, or because they feared that such participation could cost them their jobs.
Given that set of attitudes, it appears unlikely that Russian workers will be able to end or even seriously restrict the kinds of discrimination in the workplace they now face anytime soon, something that the new capitalist employers may be very pleased about but also something that ultimately will generate an explosion.

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