Yekaterina Chatskaya: Saving Mental Healthcare in Moscow

Campaign Opposing Closures of Moscow Psychiatric Hospitals Kicks Off
Yekaterina Chatskaya
Action Trade Union
December 6, 2016

Psychiatric Hospital No. 15, Moscow. Photo courtesy of Action Trade Union
Psychiatric Hospital No. 15, Moscow. Photo courtesy of Action Trade Union

Moscow has been witnessing another round of “optimization” of public healthcare. This time, officials have targeted the mental healthcare system. At present, Psychiatric Hospital No. 12 (Kannabikh Hospital), Psychiatric Hospital No. 14, and Psychiatric Hospital No. 15 are endangered. Experts and relatives of patients have been sounding the alarm. The actions of the “optimizers” will harm patients and generate a new threat to society. In addition, hundreds of qualified specialists will lose their jobs. Yekaterina Chatskaya, a Moscow physician and co-chair of the Action Interregional Healthcare Workers Trade Union, has summarized the information the trade union has collected on the “optimization” of the psychiatric clinics.

The authorities have dubbed the virtual closure of three hospitals “reorganization measures.” In particular, the Moscow City Government has already issued a decree on the reorganization of Psychiatric Hospital No. 12 (Kannabikh Hospital). It will be merged with the Solovyov Neuropsychiatric Research and Treatment Center. The reorganization of the hospital, staffed, until recently, by approximately 300 people, has come amidst psychological pressure on employees and their “voluntary” resignations or, at best, their resignation by mutual agreement and payment of two months’ worth of salary. Management has been concealing from staff the fact that severance pay in the amount of two months’ average salary is owed to employees in the event of dismissal on grounds of redudancy. Moreover, employees retain their old jobs for at least two months from the date they were officially notified of layoffs.

Psychiatric Hospital No. 15, which employs more than a thousand people, has also been threatened with mass layoffs as part of reorganization. The Moscow Health Department plans to convert it into a neuropsychiatric residential care facility. G.P. Kostyuk, Moscow’s chief psychiatrist and deputy head of the municipal health department, announced these plans at a meeting with hospital employees. However, 16 doctors and 102 nurses will remain on staff at the residential care facility. The health department could provide no written guarantees that salary levels would be maintained or other staff members would be provided with jobs.

We already know there are plans to convert Psychiatric Hospital No. 14 into a hospital for patients with chronic mental illnesses. The Moscow City Government, however, has yet to pass decrees on the reorganization of Hospital No. 14 and Hospital No. 15.

At the meeting with the employees of Hospital No. 15, officials said the decision to close the hospital had been taken personally by Deputy Mayor Alexei Khripun. However, officials provided no other weighty arguments for the decisions, and the arguments they made were patently absurd. In particular, the officials claimed that the hospital, located near Kashirskaya subway station, is unable to serve patients from the city’s Northwest Administrative District, although the hospital has in fact been serving patients from northern and northwestern Moscow for fifty years. The officials were unable to provide specific calculations showing why this had suddenly become unfeasible. Nor did they respond to doctors who argued that a residential care facility would be unable to replace the shuttered hospital. By the way, residential care facilities, unlike hospitals, are part of the social welfare system, not the healthcare system.

It is telling that reforms of such a socially significant area of medical care in Moscow as psychiatry should be launched without broad public discussion. The only document on the topic I could find in the public domain was “The Development Concept of the Moscow Municipal Psychiatric Service: Expert Comments by the Moscow Health Department’s Research Institute for Healthcare Organization and Medical Management.” It was published on November 29, that is, after people had begun to be fired and information about the reorganization had gone public.

Fifteen years ago, the Russian Federal Health Ministry announced a policy of “decentralizing inpatient psychiatric care, strengthening its outpatient component, and employing inpatient-substitution techniques” (Russian Federal Health Ministry Decree No. 98, dated March 27, 2002, “On s Sector-Wide Program for Reorganizing the Psychiatric Care Network in the Russian Federation, 2003–2008”). Most experts agree that shifting some of the burden from inpatient facilities to the outpatient component is warranted. However, even supporters of the policy recognize that Russia’s outpatient and day patient facilities can hardly offset a reduction in the number of beds at psychiatric hospitals and hospital closures. In particular, in November 2010, Valery Krasnov, director of the Moscow Psychiatric Research Institute, told the 15th Russian Psychiatric Congress that “2010 was marked by a decrease in the number of neuropsychiatric treatment centers and a deficit of social workers.” The resolution of the 16th Russian Psychiatric Congress, which took place in 2015, stated, “During the period between 2005 and 2014, a significant decrease in the number and capacity of psychiatric institutions, both outpatient and inpatient, occurred.” In other words, there has been no shift of institutional capacity towards the outpatient component, but a reduction of all components of mental healthcare.

The Action Interregional Healthcare Workers Trade Union believes that in order to decide the future of these hospitals a working group involving members of the Moscow City Government and employees of the affected hospitals should be organized. Public hearings on the matter where all interested parties could speak their minds should be held. In addition, there is no doubt that healthcare workers who are being laid off should have written guarantees they will be given new jobs at the same pay grade.

The union warns that attempts to make employees resign “voluntarily” are unlawful. Under current labor laws, reorganization cannot be grounds for terminating someone’s employment. Employees may refuse to sign letters of resignation without fear of the legal consequences. Even when employees are promised transfers to other institutions, they should not sign letters of resignation. Transfers are effected through a supplementary agreement to existing work contracts. Otherwise, employers are freed from the obligation to maintain the same working conditions and wages at the new workplace.

Furthermore, even if an employer claims dismissal is due to downsizing, we must remember that downsizing of this sort is legally possible only after the reorganization (the merger of hospitals) has been completed. After the reorganization, the employer must notify employees of possible dismissal at least two months before layoffs and offer them all available vacant positions. After dismissal, employees are entitled to payment in the amount of the average monthly salary for two months, or three months, if they have registered with the employment bureau.

The plans to close the hospitals have sparked outrage. The first petitions against the closures of Hospital No. 12 and Hospital No. 15 were posted on the web in mid November.

On December 1, a pressure group of healthcare workers from the three “optimized” hospitals, relatives of patients, and leaders of the Action Interregional Healthcare Workers Trade Union held a joint meeting. They founded a temporary Committee for the Defense of Healthcare in Moscow and decided to launch a campaign. Today, December 6, relatives of patients will kick off a series of solo pickets outside the Moscow Health Department. A full-fledged picket outside the department has been announced for November 9 at noon. A protest rally has been scheduled for December 18 on Suvorov Square from one to four p.m. City authorities are now reviewing applications for the rally as part of the approval procedure.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR) for the heads-up

Ford: Don’t Cut Workers at the Vsevolozhsk Plant!

“Ford! Stop Laying People Off! http://www.mpra.su.” Photo courtesy of MPRA

Ford! Stop Laying People Off!
MPRA
November 15, 2016

The Ford plant in Vsevolozhsk is going to cut 130 employees. The workers are becoming more and more dissatisfied. Attempts to sweeten the pill have only added fuel to the fire. MPRA (Interregional Trade Union Workers Association) activists at the plant have related a telltale story. Recently, management decided to reward the best workers with movie tickets, including workers who had received layoff notices. One such worker threw the tickets in a manager’s face, saying he needed a job, not a handout. After this incident, they say, Ford’s director general Maslyakov has banned giving perks to workers about to be downsized because, allegedly, it appears “unethical.” MPRA would argue that it is the layoffs, whose soundness is quite dubious, that appear unethical.

“We are told the layoffs are unavoidable,” reads a trade union leaflet, “but who has verified and proven it? Shouldn’t management first save money by cutting the wages and bonuses of managers?”

Today, trade union activists came to the front gates of the auto plant to hold solo pickets and talk with workers. Some of them said straight out they have nothing to lose. The layoffs are a challenge to everyone, not only to those slated to be fired, for everyone could find themselves in their shoes. MPRA urges people to join the union and support the protest campaign. We have no doubt the decision to cut jobs can be reconsidered if the majority of employees join the fight to save those jobs. MPRA’s experience at Omsktransmash and the Volkswagen plant in Kaluga, where collective action and negotations helped avoid massive layoffs, testifies to this fact.

We call upon fraternal trade unions and all people for whom social justice is not an empty phrase to support Ford workers personally by sending us photos containing messages of solidarity and the demand that Ford rescind its order to cut employees.

MPRA St. Petersburg

Translated by the Russian Reader. You can read my previous posts about the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (MPRA)other independent Russian trade unions, and the brave campaigns waged by other Russian workers here and here.

The Zhanaozen Massacre: Four Years Later

Kazakhstan: who ordered the killings and tortures?
People and Nature
December 13, 2015

Who ordered police to shoot down oil workers demonstrating for fair living standards? Who organised the torture of activists in police cells?

Four years after police killed at least 16 demonstrators and injured 60 more in the oil city of Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan, trade unionists and human rights campaigners are demanding answers.

They will spell out their calls for justice again on Wednesday this week, the fourth anniversary of the massacre, on December 16, 2011.

After the killings, some rank-and-file police officers who opened fire were jailed, and some local officials punished for corruption offences. But those who organised and instigated the crackdown have so far escaped justice.

Demonstrators in Uralsk, Kazakhstan, on the third anniversary of the Zhanaozen massacre last year. Photo: R. Uporova/ Uralskaya Nedelya newspaper

Demonstrators in Uralsk, Kazakhstan, on the third anniversary of the Zhanaozen massacre last year. Photo: R. Uporova/ Uralskaya Nedelya newspaper.

The well-documented use of torture against trade union activists after the massacre has gone unpunished.

Demands for an independent international enquiry, by the United Nations and international trade union federations, have not been met.

In the Kazakh oil fields, workers have been told they will be sacked if they dare to mark the anniversary on Wednesday. Activists in Ukraine, Russia and elsewhere will demonstrate at Kazakhstan’s embassies. If you live in another country, you can mark the anniversary by sending a message of support or taking any other type of solidarity action. (See links at the end.)

Here is an update on the campaign for justice for those killed, injured and tortured while fighting for workers’ rights.

Justice for those killed and injured on 16 December 2011

Statements about the Zhanaozen killings by the Kazakh authorities contradict each other, contradict accounts by other witnesses, and are difficult to reconcile with video and audio recordings made on the day.

Trade unionists and international campaign organisations supporting the oil workers’ families fear that, by jailing a small number of officers – all of whom have now been released – the government hoped to cover up the chain of command that led to the killings.

Journalist Saniya Toyken, who is based in the Mangistau region (which includes Zhanaozen), this month explained in an article (link to Radio Azattyq site here, Russian only) that:

■ On 18 December 2011, two days after the Zhanaozen killings, Kazakh internal affairs minister Kalmukhanbet Kasymov denied that anyone had ordered police officers to open fire on peaceful demonstrators. He claimed that police were unarmed, but went to fetch Kalashnikov rifles and ammunition after disorder broke out.

■ On the same day, the Kazakh general prosecutor admitted that 15 people had been killed in the course of the forcible response to the oil workers’ demonstration. Ten days later, on 27 December 2011, the prosecutor announced that five officers would be charged for “exceeding their legal powers.” At a trial in April-May 2012, five officers were found guilty of “exceeding their legal powers with the use of firearms.” The indictment against one, police colonel Kabdygali Utegaliev (who received the heaviest sentence, of seven years), referred to him “giving an order to use weapons.”

■ At the trial it was stated that police lieutenant-colonel Bekzhan Bagdabaev, former head of the department for combating extremism of the department for internal affairs, had killed Zhanar Abdikarimova, a peaceful resident of Zhanaozen – and that the same bullet that killed Abdikarimova had also struck Rakhat Tazhmivanov and Rzabek Makhambet. The

Oil workers at Munaifildservis in the Mangistau field at a meeting in February 2014. Photo: Saniya Toiken

Oil workers at Munaifildservis in the Mangistau field at a meeting in February 2014. Photo: Saniya Toiken

charges against three other officers (colonel Erlan Bakytkaliuly, senior lieutenant Rinat Zholdybaev and police captain Nurlan Esbergenov) mentioned deaths of, and injury to, specific victims.

■ Another victim, Bazarbai Kenzhebaev, died as a result of injuries received in police detention after the demonstration. Zhenisbek Temirov, who had been the officer in charge, was also jailed – again on charges of “exceeding his legal powers” – and made to pay 1 million tenge (about $5000) to Kenzhebaev’s family.

■ The verdicts were publicly questioned by Bagdabaev’s wife, Gulzhikhan, who in a media interview said that her husband had not opened fire and had been unjustly punished, whereas those who had used their weapons – and could be clearly seen doing so on videos – had not been brought to justice.

Relatives of massacre victims expressed dissatisfaction with the trial’s outcome, and demanded that charges of murder – rather than “exceeding legal powers” – be brought. In August 2012 they took an appeal to the regional cassation court (which re-examines legal issues, but not evidence). Judge Doszhan Amirov confirmed the trial decision but said that the question of murder charges “remained open.”

The relatives, and human rights organisations who supported them, reacted fiercely to a statement made during the officers’ trial that “unknown police officers used unregistered weapons without permission.”

Asel Nurgazieva, the legal representative of victims’ families, said: “How can police officers be described as ‘unknown’? This would mean that the whole state does not know who it employs and in whose hands it places weapons.”

Max Bokaev of the human rights campaign group Arlan, who acted as a trial observer, said in a recent interview with Toyken that while police officers’ faces were not visible in videos – which were in any case not used as evidence – their voices could be identified from sound recordings. “Now it will be complicated to ascertain who concretely shot and killed people, but those who gave the orders could be identified,” he said.

Ninel Fokina of the Helsinki committee in Almaty pointed out that there was no provision in Kazakh law for civil society to monitor the use of weapons by state agencies.

In addition to the shootings at Zhanaozen, firefighter Serik Kozhaev was killed, and 11 people injured, when police opened fire on demonstrators at the nearby railway station of Shetle on November 16, 2011. A week later, a local internal affairs ministry official, Serik Kozhaev, told journalists that police officers had fired on the crowd.

“That firefighter was on the other side [i.e. the demonstrators’ side]”, Kozhaev said. “Who opened fire? We did! We have the right to use service weapons in life-threatening situations.” Kozhaev claimed that some of the demonstrators were armed, but no evidence of this was brought to court.

One day, hopefully, our campaign efforts will lead to a genuine investigation of the killings. Then, a list of the senior security services officers responsible for the police action – compiled by Saniya Toyken, and reproduced below (“Officials with questions to answer”) – will come in useful.

Justice for trade unionists who were imprisoned and tortured

Security services officers who tortured trade unionists and their supporters  imprisoned after the Zhanaozen events have gone unpunished. These crimes have not even been investigated by the Kazakh authorities.

Thirty-seven Zhanaozen residents were tried in April-May 2012 for their part in the oil workers’ struggle, and 13 of them jailed. (More details here.) The trial judge passed numerous claims of torture, made in court, to the Mangistau district prosecutor’s office, which declined to open a criminal case, citing a lack of evidence. The office did not explain why it chose not to exercise its investigative function.

Kazakh human rights campaigner Erlan Kaliev, who acted as an observer at the oil workers’ trials, wrote on this site last year:

In court, the accused started publicly to deny the testimony that they had given during the investigation. They argued that they had been compelled to give that testimony under the strongest psychological and physical pressure from police officers. They spelled out concrete examples of how torture had been used against them.

The most common methods were suffocation with plastic bags; soaking with cold water at a temperature of minus 20 or minus 30 degrees; and hanging by the hair from the ceiling, as was the case with Roza Tuletaeva. The accused were made to stand for many hours, to sleep on the bare, or even iced-over, floor. They threatened to rape underage children, as became clear from the statements [in court] of Tanatar Kaliev and Roza Tuletaev. [Aleksandr] Bozhenko spoke of how they beat him mercilessly with switches [sheafs of branches] and jumped on him.

What’s more, all the victims gave the names of those who had treated them so brutally. They said that the perpetrators – police officers, prison staff or Committee of National Security operatives – very often made no attempt to cover up their identities. Their first names and surnames are in the court record. But there has been no investigation.

Victims of torture, listed in another recent article by Saniya Toyken (link here, Russian only), include:

■ Maksat Dosmagambetov, oil worker and trade union activist jailed at the 2012 trial and given conditional early release in February this year. He has cancer of his facial bones, apparently caused by the beating he received in police custody. In March, after his release, he travelled to South Korea for treatment. Dosmagambetov had pointed to a police officer and

Police at Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011

Police at Zhanaozen on 16 December 2011

said: “You saw with your own eyes how they beat me and punctured my ears with a staple gun.” Another defendant, Tanatir Kaliev, repeated the claim. (Activists have not published the name of the officer, who has not been charged.)

■ Yesengeldy Abdrakhmanov, an unemployed man from Zhanaozen who was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment but released via an amnesty, told the court that he had contracted tuberculosis as a result of police torture. “I was stripped naked. They poured freezing water over me and beat me.”

■ Shabdol Otkelov, sentenced to five years, said in court that a security services officer “put a cellophane bag over my head and, stuffing it in to my mouth, forced me to confess to the preparation of explosives and to sign papers prepared by an investigator based in Astana [the capital of Kazakhstan].”

■ Roza Tuletaeva, a trade union activist who told the court she had been suffocated and hung by her hair, demanded that the tortures be investigated.

■ Kairat Adilov, sentenced to three years, told how an investigator put a gun to his head and threatened to shoot if he did not confess guilt.

■ Allegations of torture by police, prison officers and other security personnel were also made to the court by Ergazy Zhannyr, Serik Akzhigitov, Islam Shamilov, Bauyrzhan Telegenov, Zharas Besmagambetov, Samat Koyshybaev, Ertai Ermukhanov, Sisen Aspentaev, Zhenis Bopilov and Rasul Mukhanbetov.

■ Trial observers from Open Dialog say that, furthermore, six trial witnesses made allegations of torture in court. One, Aleksandr Bozhenko, who repeated the claims in television interviews, was murdered in unclear circumstances ten days later.

In 2013, Amnesty International accused Kazakhstan of “routinely” using torture, including in the Zhanaozen cases. (Amnesty report downloadable here.) Now some campaigners are calling for a “Zhanaozen list” of officials to be compiled, similar to the “Magnitsky list” drawn up by human rights activists in Russia, which led to the USA sanctioning security services officers involved in the ill-treatment and death in prison of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky.

Lyudmyla Kozlovska of the international campaign group Open Dialog, that has championed human rights cases in Kazakhstan, said in an interview with Saniya Toyken that putting together a list would take time. “The question of tortures is not being raised [by the authorities] in Kazakhstan, because it involves people at the highest levels of government.”

The UK connection

There are strong business links between the UK and Kazakhstan. BG Group (former British Gas, now merging with Shell) and other oil companies work there; Kazakh companies raise money through the London markets. Tony Blair, former prime minister, advised Kazakhstan’s government – including specifically encouraging them to hush up the Zhanaozen issue – and UK government ministers, together with Prince Andrew, keep the relationship sweet. GL, 13 December 2015.

■ Send solidarity messages via the Confederation of Labour of Russia (email ktr@ktr.su) and/or via the Justice for Kazakh oil workers facebook page, and/or via gabriel.levy.mail@gmail.com.

Kazakh oil workers information page

Kazakhstan: oil companies threaten activists

Officials with questions to answer

►Kalmukhanbet Kasymov, minister of internal affairs at the time of the Zhanaozen massacre, has twice been reappointed to that position. In 2014 he was awarded the Order of Honour, and in 2015 was given the rank of general-colonel.

►Amanzhol Kabylov, who was head of the department of internal affairs of Mangistau region, and was appointed commandant of Zhanaozen when the state of emergency was declared there after the massacre, has been promoted. He now works as the deputy chairman of the criminal investigation committee of the Astana police.

►Abkrasul Oteshov, former deputy head of the directorate of internal affairs in Zhanaozen, who was accused of torture at the oil workers’ trial, is currently deputy head of the directorate of internal affairs of Munailinsky district of Mangistau region. 

►Former head of the directorate of internal affairs of Zhanaozen, Mukhtar Kozhaev, has been promoted to a position as head of criminal police in Astana.

►Another deputy head of the directorate of internal affairs in Zhanaozen, Nuraly Barzhikov, who has said “I was on the square [where the shootings took place] and I used firearms,” remains at his post.

►Officer Marat Kyzylkuluky, who admitted using firearms, now works with the migration police in Zhanaozen.

►Colonel Ulykbek Myltykov, who said in court that he had not fired on fleeing demonstrators – and after being showed video vidence, said he “did not know why [officers] fired” – is currently head of the administrative police of the department of internal affairs of the Mangistau region.

►Former deputy head of the department of internal affairs of Mangistau region Erzhan Sadenov currently works as the head of the department of internal affairs transport division in Astana.  

__________

Kazakhstan: oil companies threaten activists
People and Nature
December 13, 2015

Oil company managers have warned workers not to demonstrate on the fourth anniversary of the Zhanaozen massacre, Kazakh opposition news sites reported last week.

A fresh wave of unrest is brewing in the oil field after the announcement of redundancies, caused by the falling oil price and company cutbacks. A Kazakh-Chinese drilling company laid off 200 people in August.

Activists jailed after the 2011 strikes – which ended with police killing at least 16, and wounding 60, when they opened fire on protestors on 16 December 2011 – are under special scrutiny. “The security services have

Roza Tuletaeva. Photo: Saniya Toyken

Roza Tuletaeva. Photo: Saniya Toyken

been active, and have carried out ‘preventive discussions’ with activists, especially those who have been released from prison,” Respublika newspaper reported.

“They have promised [the activists] that they will again be put behind bars, especially if they try to influence trade union elections, as happened on 21 November in Zhanaozen.”

Akzhanat Aminov, one of the activists who was jailed and conditionally released, has been given an additional one year suspended sentence. That was a response to his election in June this year as chairman of the trade union committee of Ozenmunaigaz, the largest state-owned oil production company, the socialismkz.info site reported.

Roza Tuletaeva, a prominent trade union activist who was jailed at the Zhanaozen trial, said last month in a telephone interview with Radio Azattyq that she is back at work in the well drilling division of Ozenmunaigaz. She expressed concern for the condition of Maksat Dosmagambetov, her fellow activist who is seriously ill following torture in detention. Roza added that she remains in touch with the 12 other workers jailed at the Zhanaozen trial.

While the Zhanaozen prisoners have now been released, the politician Vladimir Kozlov of the democratic movement Alga was last week denied conditional release terms. He was jailed in a general crackdown following the oil workers’ strikes, of which he was a prominent supporter. GL, 13 December 2015.

Editor’s Note. My profound thanks to Gabriel Levy for his permission to reproduce these articles here.

No Assembly Required (Alexei Etmanov on the Russian Car Industry)

Semi Knockdown Disassembly
Why are Russian automotive giants dreaming of shrinking?
Irina Smirnova | Leningrad Region
October 9, 2015
Trud

Employees leave the AvtoVAZ factory in Togliatti, Russia, on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009. Photographer: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/Bloomberg
Employees leave the AvtoVAZ factory in Togliatti, Russia, on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2009. Photographer: Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr/Bloomberg

 An independent workers union has held a rally protesting layoffs at AvtoVAZ, which is planning to cut 15,000 of its 49,000 workers in the near future. No one has officially voiced these figures, but trade unionists managed to sneak a peak at the lists of “superfluous” people. Layoffs are also anticipated at two subsidiaries, AvtoVAZagregat and Volga Machinery Plant (VMZ). Until recently, 2,000 people were employed at the first plant, which is a major supplier of car seats. Now the plant is undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, and its workers have not been paid for three months. The prosecutor’s office has filed 800 lawsuits to recover back pay, and activists at the plant have gone on hunger strike, but what is the point?

AvtoVAZ had conducted mass layoffs last year. 12,000 people left the company then. AvtoVAZ’s president, Bo Andersson, claimed the company was not planning mass layoffs of workers in 2015, but would part only with 1,100 apparatchiks. But workers anticipate a new round of layoffs, and trade union activist Vyacheslav Shepelyov has been fired for taking part in the hunger strike.

AvtoVAZ is not simply a big factory, but an indicator of the situation in Russian industry. Strategic decisions regarding the auto-manufacturing giant are made at the government level. And here, it seems, a social explosion is brewing.

“Who told you about an explosion? Those are tall tales!” says Alexei Etmanov, chair of the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (ITUWA) and a deputy in the Leningrad Regional Legislative Assembly.

Alexander Etmanov
Alexander Etmanov

As always, Etmanov does not mince his words.

“A thousand people came out and made a little racket, and what of it? Hunger strikes? Even if everyone starves to death, people will still get laid off. They have got used to spoon-feeding a toothless trade union, so now they can take it on the chin.”

Etmanov believes that AvtoVAZ inevitably faces a restructuring under which its non-core assets will be cut loose. But layoffs can and should be resisted.

“Look at Air France. The company management there was nearly torn to shreds: they had to run to escape from enraged employees. As a result, management came to the opinion that layoffs might not be so inevitable, that they were negotiable. But management grows fat on our problems in Russia. AvtoVAZ employees are not even willing to join a [militant] trade union. How will they defend themselves? The people gobble up anything the boss brings them in his beak.”

But isn’t AvtoVAZ part of your trade union?

“They are an entire eighty ITUWA members among a workforce of 49,000. We are not a mass force there capable of protecting workers. The workers will not be able to achieve anything for themselves within the official trade union. Alas! They will go to work as janitors, leave the country for a better life or drink themselves to death. Our people have no experience of fighting for their own interests. They are intimidated and broken. I blame myself as well. I have done little to ensure that working people show more solidarity. That is our main concern: to teach them solidarity. We live under the harshest capitalism, and it is simply naïve to expect mercy from above.”

Although, as Etmanov stresses, protesting is not the only way to fight for jobs.

“For example, the government of Leningrad Region has passed a law reducing Ford’s property tax by 50%, which amounts to 160 million rubles. For a small plant, that is substantial assistance. The federal government, of course, has greater means of this kind than local authorities. The ITUWA is preparing a package of measures to save the Russian car industry, measures that were applied in Brazil, Germany, and other countries during the 2008 crisis. Although certain State Duma deputies shout, ‘Why help American automotive giants?’ They don’t understand that [companies like Ford and Nissan] have long become part of the Russian automotive industry. The plants pay taxes in the Russian Federation, and our people work there.”

But after the collapse of the ruble aren’t Russian-made cars more competitive? They are now cheaper than their foreign counterparts.

“In fact, they are not cheaper,” objects Etmanov. “The difference in the currency exchange rate devoured the entire profit margin, since AvtoVAZ imports most of its parts from abroad because Russian suppliers cannot provide the high-quality product that a normal car industry needs. Car production in Russia is unprofitable; there is no margin. And the question of the day is whether there are enough of these companies that adhere to quality standards and do not want to manufacture bad cars. Now they are working at a loss.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Images courtesy of the Moscow Times and Soviet Russia Today

Moscow Doctors Go on Work-to-Rule Strike

Work-to-Rule Strike: What Moscow Doctors Are Fighting
Julia Dudkina
March 25, 2015
snob.ru

Moscow doctors have declared a work-to-rule strike. Disgruntled by personnel cuts and the introduction of time limits for seeing patients, they said they would now work strictly by the rules, without overtime. We found out how the strike has been going in the capital’s clinics.

“Our working day is not set,” explains Dmitry Polyakov, a neighborhood general practitioner at Diagnostic Center No. 5. “When forty-five people pass before your eyes in a single day, you feel awful.  And there have been staff cuts, many specialists have left, and their patients are referred to us. People are unhappy, of course, and they take it out on us. By the end of the day it is often difficult even to focus one’s eyes, let alone concentrate. Salaries have fallen, incentives to work have decreased, but the workloads have grown.”

In addition to seeing patients in clinic, a neighborhood GP has many other duties, such as visiting ten to fifteen patients at home. Plus, there is paperwork: outpatient charts, registration stubs, and discharge sheets. Much of the paperwork has to be filled out during the doctor’s free time. And yet salaries have been rapidly shrinking. Whereas before they had been as much eighty and even one hundred thousand rubles per month, neighborhood GPs are now paid around forty thousand rubles a month [approx. 640 euros at current exchange rates].

“We have a very large flow of patients,” complains Yekaterina Chatskaya, an OG/GYN at City Clinic No. 180. “There is no one to see all the patients; the workload is colossal. It happens that you work nine and ten hours a day. I basically don’t see my husband and child, and I make only forty thousand rubles a month. If we were at least provided with stationery supplies. Yesterday, I was issued paper for my printer for the first time in five years. Usually, though, I have to buy supplies out of my own money. But the main disaster is the lack of time for examining patients properly. The Health Ministry allots ten to twelve minutes for each patient, but it is impossible to meet this standard.”

Elena Konte, a GP at the first branch of City Clinic No. 220, had hoped that the start of the work-to-rule strike would simplify things. If she didn’t have to work overtime, she would manage to go home on time, and fill out outpatient charts that had piled up from last week. But a nurse who was supposed to help with patients took ill; a conference was scheduled for the middle of the day; and a mysterious “inspector,” a doctor from an outpatient center, suddenly showed up as well.

“This never happened before. I am sure she came because of today’s strike,” says Elena. “She didn’t say anything about the strike, but she asked about how much we have to work and inquired about the UMIAS (Unified Medical Information Analysis System). I think she was horrified by how much unnecessary scribbling falls on us and how much running around the entire clinic we do searching for patients’ test results: after all, they’re not even recorded in the computer at our clinic. Of course, it’s uncomfortable working when you’re being observed all day. But at least they paid attention to us.”

Elena Konte managed to see all her patients that day, but she was unable to complete all the outpatient charts. The first day of the work-to-rule strike failed to solve the problems that have accrued over the past months for staff at the first branch of City Clinic No. 220.

“At first, there were six doctors working eight neighborhoods in our second general practice department,” says Elena. “Then, one of the neighborhood GPs was sent to retrain as a family doctor, and there were five of us left. In February, yet another doctor was transferred to a neighboring branch. But this is winter, the peak time for upper respiratory infections. And the workload is such that it is like we’re working two positions. The strain is very hard, both physically and mentally. Yesterday, I got to the clinic at 8 a.m., and went home at nine in the evening. But I will continue to participate in the strike. They have already promised to reduce consultation hours from five to four hours, and have added another position in reception.”

Downstairs, on the ground floor, two old women were vigorously discussing the news from the world of medicine.

“They all got laid off. Who is there to do the work now?”

“Exactly! And in a couple months, they say, there will be further layoffs. They have to go on strike.”

If the strike has gone unnoticed for both patients and physicians at this clinic, things are quite different at Diagnostic Center No. 5.

“Today, I managed to see everyone who came by appointment, and even finally filled out all my paperwork in normal handwriting and finished working with the outpatient charts that had piled up,” says neighborhood GP Irina Kutuzova. “Maybe the bigwigs won’t notice the strike at first, but when an emergency occurs, everyone will get it.  Generally, it is hard to work in the present circumstances. You cannot examine a patient who has come by appointment longer than ten minutes, but some patients require much more time. And it often takes twenty minutes to fill out a sick leave form. I get forty to forty-five patients a day; it is a constant blitz. And there is another whole crowd of patients who come ‘just to ask a question.’ As a result, people get disgruntled: they literally kick open the door and voice their complaints. By the end of the day, it all becomes a blur, and I don’t have the strength to write out prescriptions. But today I had thirty-seven patients. Also a lot, of course, but better nevertheless.”

In the hallway, an elderly woman catches my hand. She is waiting in the queue for the next room.

“Young woman, you’re not a patient? Maybe you know whether they’ll see me today or not?” she asks hopefully.

Her name is Galina Bordo, and she has been waiting her turn for nearly two hours. A few weeks ago, she had a tumor removed, and now she must have regular checkups. The doctor’s visiting hours ended twenty minutes ago, but the last patient still has not come out.

“I heard they started a strike today. Good for them, it’s the right thing to do. Otherwise, in today’s environment, with the queues and unnecessary paperwork, they don’t cure anyone,” Bordo says.

According to the healthcare workers union Action (Deistvie), twenty employees at six clinics have been taking part in the work-to-rule strike by Moscow doctors. In the near future, twenty-two other health care providers may join them.

“Our goal is not to cause a collapse, but to show how and under what conditions doctors work,” explains Andrei Konoval, Action’s organizational secretary. “To demonstrate that under normal, unhurried service, the number of patients who can be seen in a day is reduced by one and a half to two times.  This means that it is necessary to increase the number of doctors and medical facilities. Even if there were only one brave doctor willing to participate in the strike, we would still go through with it.”

Andrei Khripun, head of the city’s health department, has already dubbed the strike a “political provocation,” and claimed that it had failed, because “Moscow clinics are operating in normal mode.” Although that had been the point of the strike: to work according to the rules.

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Valentin Urusov
March 25, 2015
Facebook

Today, a comrade and I went to a medical facility to hand out leaflets (the appeal by striking doctors to patients). Fortunately, people have been reacting quite positively to the doctors’ strike and have gladly agreed to support them. Many people took leaflets to hand out at home.

I called one of the strikers and asked whether she has felt pressure from management. She said she had, but since they are determined and have really enjoyed working according to the law, the strike could continue for quite a long time. But now they are able to spend exactly as much time as they need on a patient, and not what officials want them to spend.

What is interesting is that if women have taken something on, they’ll definitely see it through to the end, unlike most of us men. I think it would be better if officials started listening to what they’re saying and stopped destroying healthcare while it’s still not too late.

One shady type drove up in a car and asked for a couple of leaflets. Then he pulled away and photographed us. Apparently, he was a spy. Security behaved properly, and at first they even tried not to notice us. Later, though, they asked us not to make trouble for them and go outside. That was even more convenient for us, and we handed out more leaflets.

Tomorrow, we will go to the other strike sites and notify patients. I think it would be great if everyone who was going to a hospital or clinic would take several such leaflets along and hand them out there. So, friends, don’t stand on the sidelines so that you’ll regret it later. Make your contribution to the common cause. The text of the leaflet is below. Anyone can print it out.

Dear Patients,

On March 24, a “work according to instructions” action, which journalists often call an “Italian” strike, was launched at several Moscow clinics. Its gist is that doctors who have decided to draw the attention of authorities to the disgraceful state of medical care have started to work in complete accordance with the Labor Code and the standards of care.

We have worked in inhuman conditions for years. Our workday often lasts nine, ten, and even twelve hours. However, rather than increasing staff and creating normal working conditions, health officials have begun laying off physicians and reducing the time patients can be seen to mere minutes. But the workload and amount of paperwork have only grown. In our view, such excesses only serve as cover for bureaucrats pursuing a policy of commercializing healthcare: the longer the artificially generated queues in clinics are, the easier it will be to make patients pay.

From March 24, we have decided to hold consultations based on established standards. Moreover, if a patient’s condition requires more time than is laid down in the regulations, we are not going to speed up examinations, because haste poses a threat to the person’s life and health.

We ask for your understanding and support. We are in the same boat, on the same side of the barricade erected by “optimizing” officials. We will do everything we can to ensure that no problems with the provision of medical care arise. Eight days ago, we warned our chief physicians, as well the Moscow Department of Health and even the Russian Federal Prosecutor’s Office, of the need to ensure that patients whom we do not have time to examine during our shifts are seen.

If you are, nevertheless, unable to get an appointment through the negligence of management, we suggest you send a complaint to the Department of Health. (Believe us, it helps!) In the complaint, you should write that the physician you wanted to see had warned management of possible problems in connection with “work to rule,” but management failed to take the necessary organizational and personnel measures. You can do this on the site mosgorzdrav.ru in the section marked “For the public” > “Petitions from the public” > “Receipt of petitions from the public.”

We would be grateful if you would sign the online appeal in support of the issues we have raised. To do this, simply type in the address goo.gl/nxJ8C5.

Together we will make the system work for the benefit of patients, not bureaucrats.

Your Doctors

Vologda Machine Plant Workers Rally against Layoffs

In Vologda, Machine Plant Workers Stage Rally against New Layoffs
March 23, 2015
newsvo.ru

Today at 10 a.m., workers from the Vologda Machine Plant (VMP) staged a rally on Revolution Square. The occasion was a new round of layoffs.

meeting_in_vologdaVMP workers on the march in Vologda. The first placard from the left reads, “Is this what our grandfathers fought for?” The second placard from the right reads, “The people’s interests outweigh the owner’s interests.” Photo courtesy of By24.org

As protesters told a Radio Premier correspondent, lists of workers slated for firing had recently been published. It is planned that at least fifty more people will be fired. Given that the company now has about ninety employees, a new round of layoffs might simply kill the plant, according to protesters. In addition, workers claimed that management had stopped paying them back wages.

The demonstration moved from Revolution Square to Drygin Square. Originally, protesters had planned to block traffic. Ultimately, however, they took the decision not to spoil the morning for commuters. They rallied briefly on the porch of the regional legislative assembly building before heading towards the “white house.”

VMP workers are now rallying outside the regional government house.

After a series of strikes in February, the plant was subjected to several checks by law enforcement agencies. The regional government announced it was monitoring the situation at the plant, and last week it promised to monitor the payment of wage arrears. Criminal charges have been filed against VMP management. According to the regional prosecutor’s officer, money was “siphoned” from the company.

_______________

Workers Rebel in Vologda, Russia
March 23, 2015
by24.org

The huge cost of the undeclared war in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine, Western economic sanctions, the slump in oil prices, and the concomitant economic crisis in Russia have had an immediate impact on the country’s ordinary citizens. Today, March 23, workers from the local machine plant in the city of Vologda came to the residence of the region’s governor and almost stormed the building. Authorities had to urgently summon police and Interior Ministry troops in full combat gear, reports local publication newsvo.ru.***

The boiling point for workers at the Vologda Machine Plant, who as it was had not been paid for eight months, was the company’s decision to undertake mass layoffs. A list of fifty names of employees who would be fired was posted at the plant entrance. Given that only ninety workers had remained employed at the plant, such a layoff would be tantamount to the plant’s death.

At first the indignant workers, bearing placards, went to the regional legislative assembly. However, realizing that the local deputies were of little use to them, they moved to the “white house,” the regional administration building.

After numerous threats from police to file criminal charges against the protesters for an unauthorized mass rally, the workers nevertheless succeeded in meeting with Vologda Region Deputy Governor Alexei Kozhevnikov. He sincerely sympathized with the VMP workforce. He assured them the situation at the plant was being constantly monitored and promised to solve all their problem—after, however, bankruptcy proceedings and a change of ownership. A court hearing on the matter is scheduled for May 6.

According to the Vologda regional prosecutor’s office, corruption had flourished at VMP in recent years, and money had simply been “siphoned” from the company. The management at the plant, which handles defense orders, had recently been completely replaced, and criminal charges filed against the previous management. The company’s assets, including manufacturing equipment, had been seized by court bailiffs in lieu of the company’s debts, and heating had been turned off on the shop floors for nonpayment. Even under these conditions, VMP workers, who had not seen a paycheck for eight months, had continued to fill orders, most of them defense-related.

*** Editor’s note. This detail does not seem borne out by the article linked to, which I have translated, above, although the videos posted there do show some kind of (mostly verbal) confrontation with police. But there is definitely no mention of “Interior Ministry troops in full combat gear” in the first article, as claimed by the authors of the second article.

Thanks to Comrade DR for help with finding source materials and the initial heads-up.

“Anti-Extremist” Police Crack Down on Unionized Autoworkers in Kaluga

Automotive Industry Checked for Extremism
Center “E” Officers Detain Independent Trade Union Activists in Kaluga
Anatoly Karavayev and Daniil Lomakin
March 23, 2015
Gazeta.Ru

Kaluga police conducted a raid against independent trade union activists who had gathered to discuss layoffs at local car factories. Due to the decline of the auto market, 750 people might be fired in the very near future. After being detained on a technicality, the detainees talked to officers from Center “E”, the Center for Extremism Prevention. The trade union movement considers such actions a preventive measure by the authorities.

A scandal has erupted in Kaluga over the detention of fifteen activists from the Interregional Trade Union Workers Association (ITUWA). (Police claim that twelve activists were detained.) At the weekend, workers from local automotive factories had gathered at the offices of the ITUWA’s Kaluga local to discuss future personnel reductions in the region.

For example, there are plans to lay off 150 people at the local Volkswagen plant in the near future.

In addition, the Peugeot-Citroen plant in Kaluga could dismiss as many as 40% of its workers, around 600 people, without compensation after March 31. Unlike Volkswagen, the French automaker has not yet made an official announcement.

As the ITUWA local informed Gazeta.Ru, they are planning this week to negotiate with plant management. If an agreement to save jobs is not reached, the trade union intends to hold protest rallies and file a series of lawsuits.

The local security forces also took notice of the Kaluga trade union’s activism. Over the weekend, police conducted mass arrests of its members. Moreover, officers from Center “E”, which specializes in combating various forms of extremism, dealt with the activists.

As activists recounted, they had begun gathering for the meeting when police suddenly entered the ITUWA office in Kaluga and arrested everyone present. Ultimately, 15 people were taken to the police station. ITUWA local chair Dmitry Trudovoi is certain the detention of the activists was occasioned by the trade union’s increased activism.

“Layoffs are planned at Peugeot-Citroen and Volkswagen. All this has lead the trade union to ratchet things up. Strikes and all that are possible. Basically, this was an act of intimidation,” Trudovoi said of the incident.

“This was a ridiculous police provocation,” Dmitry Kozhnev, who was among the detainees, told Gazeta.Ru.

“First, a beat cop entered the office. He asked about two people who had committed a robbery nearby and had, allegedly, dashed into the building where the ITUWA meeting was taking place. Some time later, the ‘bigwigs’ arrived (around forty ranking officers), people in uniform and plainclothes who systematically arrested us and took us to the station.”

“At first, they told us that the arrests were linked, allegedly, to the robbery. But that doesn’t seem to be true, given that people were detained for an hour. Center “E” officers conducted the interrogations. They were trying to figure out what our organization was doing, what events were planned. But none of the detained ITUWA members answered their questions.”

According to Kozhnev, the ITUWA regarded the arrests as an attempt to intimidate members of the trade union.

“Center “E” officers told us we were agents of the West and wanted to destabilize the situation in the country,” said Kozhnev.

“But ultimately they didn’t achieve their objective; they only discredited themselves. On the contrary, the situation has united all ITUWA workers even more,” he added.

The Kaluga Region Interior Ministry office denied the arrests of the ITUWA members occurred during an investigation of their activity.

As Svetlana Somova, head of the press center at the regional Interior Ministry office told Gazeta.Ru that a robbery had occurred near where the trade unionists were meeting. Two unidentified men had attacked a third man and stolen his belongings.

“According to the victim, [the robbers] escaped into the building where the meeting was taking place,” explained Somova. “A group of people, some of whom had no documents, was in the room. They were unable to explain anything about the men who had entered the building. Therefore, they were taken to Police Precinct No. 2. And there it transpired that an out-of-town trade union movement leader was among them. Naturally, the desk sergeant summoned Counter-Extremism Center officers to avoid provocations.”

As Somova explained, no more than ten officers had been dispatched to the site where the ITUWA members were detained: an extra-departmental security squad, a patrol squad, and police investigators.

“There were no riot police, as has been previously reported in the media,” said the press spokesperson. “If citizens believe their rights have been violated, they can complain to the prosecutor about the police’s actions. ITUWA activists had earlier accused the police of illegal actions, but no violations were uncovered during the course of probes.”

According to the press service spokesperson, police did not suspect they were detaining trade union members because the building sported a large “Barbershop” sign.

“A signal had to be sent”

ITUWA chair and well-known trade unionist Alexei Etmanov deems the incident in Kaluga unacceptable.

“It’s an absolutely abnormal situation when workers gathered for a trade union meeting are raided by the police. These are the methods not even of the 1990s, but of the 1930s,” Etmanov told Gazeta.Ru.

According to Etmanov, the detainees had gathered on a weekend day at the Kaluga ITUWA office to discuss the situation at the region’s automotive plants.

“There were members from Volkswagen and Peugeot-Citroen and other plants,” said Etmanov. “A beat cop showed up under false pretenses, then a SWAT team. At the precinct, they tried to fingerprint people.  Those who were more experienced were able to wriggle out of it, but some had their fingerprints taken. No one filed any charges, of course, but it was a very heavy hint about not fighting so vigorously for one’s rights. I am certain that 90% of this was at the behest of the regional government. There are many foreign-owned plants here. A clear signal had to be sent that there was no need to defend one’s rights too vigorously.”

According to Etmanov, the ITUWA plans to send a letter about the incident to Russian Federal Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev via the All-Russian Confederation of Labor (VKT).

In turn, the Kaluga Region media relations office told Gazeta.Ru it was planning no statements regarding the incident.

“If there are any questions, we are happy to answer them upon written request,” said Anastasia Davydkina, head of the office.

Layoffs at Auto Factories in Kaluga Region

As Kaluga ITUWA organizer Dmitry Kozhnev explained to Gazeta.Ru, around 40% of the workers at the Peugeot-Citroen are on fixed-term contracts that expire on March 31 and, according to the union’s information, will not be renewed.

“The problem with this arrangement existed long ago and was a ticking time bomb. A fixed-term contract allows the employer to fire a worker without paying out any compensation,” explained Kozhnev. “At the same time, it is illegal to hire workers on such conditions. A fixed-term contract may be concluded only when it is impossible to hire an employee under an open-end contract.

“But in the case of the Kaluga plant, there were no such obstacles. Moreover, we already have won favorable court rulings for several plant employees. The court ordered the plant to sign open-ended contracts with them.”

But employees will be offered to transfer to the Volkswagen engine plant, whose launch in Kaluga is planned for the second half of the year. Volkswagen does not rule out the possibility that a portion of the downsized workers might be dismissed by mutual consent. They would be offered a compensation package.

“The packages include financial compensation and medical insurance valid until the end of 2015. In addition, those employees who leave the company by mutual agreement will be the first to be asked to return to the factory when the car market starts to recover,” Volkswagen spokesperson Natalya Kostyukovich told Gazeta.Ru.

In February of this year, the Volvo truck factory in the Kaluga Region shut down completely.  Due to the collapse of the auto market, demand for cars had slumped. About 200 people lost their jobs.