Published: 07/06/2011

Russia’s Duma (Parliament) has voted in the first reading in favor of a bill which if adopted will effectively ban the use of temporary agency labour in the country.

The legislation was proposed in November 2010 by two trade union leaders who are also Members of Parliament, and received massive support from trade unions around the country, including the IUF-affiliated Agro-Industrial Union of Russia (AIWU) and the Union of Food, Tobacco, Services and Allied Workers ‘Solidarnost’. The draft bill immediately generated a strongly hostile response from the international temp agency association CIETT (who wrote the Duma that banning temp agencies was “inappropriate from the point of view of defending the interests of employees”), the American Chamber of Commerce in Russia and other employer lobby groups.

Temporary agency labour in Russia currently occupies a grey zone – its legal basis has not been established, nor is it expressly illegal – which poses difficulties for accurately measuring its extent. Data provided by CIETT and other associations varies from 70,000 to 300,000 agency employees – a low figure when set against Russia’s economically active population of 76 million. The agencies claim they provide their services for highly skilled professionals and people who consciously seek this kind of employment, thereby creating jobs which otherwise would not exist.

But data collected through a recent IUF/AIWU investigation provides a substantially different picture of both the extent of the phenomenon and the function of these workers. Of the 116 enterprise-level organizations which were surveyed, 49 confirmed the presence of agency workers, and half of these reported their presence in “core” production. Among the organizations surveyed were unions representing workers in domestic and multinational companies in food processing, beverages, the tobacco industry and agriculture. The survey clearly shows that the vast majority of these “temporary” jobs consist of previously permanent positions outsourced to labour market intermediaries.

The survey documented widespread violations of basic rights and pay and social security cuts for workers on factories and farms. In the case of the Saint Petersburg Heineken brewery, agency workers were replacing permanent workers in order to dilute union membership. At the Krasnoyarskaya poultry plant, agencies and subcontractors were used to disperse new “employers” throughout the enterprise’s production units.

Passage of the bill, which would clearly identify employer responsibility by banning labour market intermediaries, would therefore represent an important advance for protecting worker rights not only in Russia but throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where agency labour currently occupies a similarly ambiguous legal situation.