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By John Helmer in Moscow

Russian dockers at St Petersburg and Tuapse are threatening to strike unless the stevedore and port companies employing them accept inflation indexation of their salaries, which is provided by Russia’s labour law, but is not included in their current work contracts. The threat is aimed at Russia’s richest individual, the oligarch Vladimir Lisin (right image).

Vasily Kozarenko, chairman of the Dockers’ Union of Russia, told Fairplay “currently, the collective [labour] agreements of the St. Petersburg and Tuapse ports don’t have an item that would regulate the indexation and increase of salaries, although the Labor Code indicates such a regulation, so we are actually trying to get the law working. Our demand is that the salaries should be indexed according to the inflation level, plus a 5% increase. Indexation should be carried out each quarter.”

The port companies are managed for Lisin by Oleg Bukin. According to Kozarenko, Bukin has rejected the wage proposals. “We have already filed 236 claims to the courts,” Kozarenko said, “in order to get the salaries increased. The latest court ruling was that we should forward our demands to the management, and now we are doing that.” He added that wage indexation is part of stevedore labour agreements at Russia’s fareastern ports, and there has been no labour conflict there.

The dockers have preserved their independence of the proprietors more successfully than other unionized groups in Russia, such as coal miners, steel or auto workers. Against Lisin, who bought into port companies to secure export movement for the steel products of his Novolipetsk steel group, the stevedores have run strikes more successfully than almost any other union group in the country.

In September 2005, and then again in November 2008, the same unionized stevedores struck for wage increases and wage indexation. In 2005, the management responded by suggesting the demands were due to “left-wing radical and extremist agitation”. But indexation was accepted by the management on condition it was linked to productivity increases from the union.

In 2008, the local court in Tuapse ruled in favour of the management, ordering the strikers back to work on the ground that striking created a danger to lives and welfare. But the St. Petersburg strikers ended their action with an agreement on a wage increase of 10% to 12% for machine operators; more for specialized stevedores.

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