Tag Archives: freedom of association

“Decent Work” and the Valentin Urusov Case: A Test of Sincerity

column.global-labour-university.org

“Decent Work” and the Valentin Urusov Case: A Test of Sincerity
Anna Wolańska

Like Russian politics, labour relations in Russia are rife with contradictions.

On the one hand, Vladimir Putin addressed the International Labour Conference in 2011 and marched with the trade unions in a 2012 May Day demonstration, portraying himself as a supporter of progressive labour legislation and the notion of social partnership. Russia has an established system of tripartism: no social issue can be decided on without being discussed by the country’s permanent tripartite commission.

To discuss the further development of tripartism and socially-responsible responses to the global crisis, the Russian government will host a major international conference on decent work in Moscow on 11–12 December 2012. Around 800 delegates are expected to attend, including prime ministers, government officials, trade unionists and representatives of employers’ associations from 80 countries.

Speaking in Geneva at a joint briefing with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General Guy Ryder during the last session of the ILO Governing Body, Russian Federation Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Protection Lyubov Yeltsova invited all ILO member states to take part in the conference. She emphasised the importance Russia attaches to cooperation in furthering international labour and social standards, the protection of individual and collective rights, and the interests of workers. As she put it, “the concept of decent work makes it possible to seek solutions to key challenges facing the international community, such as job creation, poverty reduction, social stability and globalization, on a just basis.”

On the other hand, on the same day that the Deputy Minister declared her commitment to the principles and ideals of social justice, the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association issued its report on a complaint from Russian and international trade unions. The complaint, filed with the ILO in 2011, is brimming with facts that paint a picture at odds with the official one: constantly increasing pressure on trade union activists, harassment and persecution, threats of physical violence, repressive rulings against trade union organisers by local courts, and a ban on distributing trade union leaflets and educational materials for workers. This is all happening in parallel with the destruction of the social welfare system in a country where wages are shamefully low for a developed European nation.

The complaint submitted to the ILO describes, among other cases, the story of independent trade union activist Valentin Urusov (born 1974). Trade unionists in Russia and around the world have been campaigning for his release for several years. His story is not only an example of determination and sacrifice, but also a vivid illustration of the true relations between capital and labour in today’s Russia, where the largest employers are colluding with corrupt government officials to purposefully and methodically destroy the seeds of the new trade union movement, while Kremlin officials speak about social partnership.

Valentin Urusov

Urusov worked as an electrical fitter at an ore-processing mill owned by the diamond mining company Alrosa in the town of Udachny (Sakha Republic). An intelligent, persuasive leader, Urusov chaired the Profsvoboda trade union that was founded there and led the protest actions organised by workers.

Profsvoboda was founded in Udachny in June 2008. In mid-August of the same year, dissatisfied with low pay and working conditions, workers in the repair shops at one division of Alrosa announced a hunger strike, formal notice of which was received and registered by management.

The company’s director signed an order establishing a reconciliation commission to resolve the issue of workers’ pay. Profsvoboda was supposed to represent workers on this commission, and the following day it suspended strike actions. Despite its promises, however, Alrosa made no effort to conduct real negotiations, unleashing instead a crackdown against trade union activists. In response, workers began preparations for a large-scale protest rally.

On 3 September 2008, Urusov was detained on suspicion of narcotics possession. However, his arrest suspiciously coincided with preparations for the protest rally by Alrosa workers, a rally he himself was involved in organising. Equally “coincidentally,” the company’s deputy director of economic security was present as an official witness (such witnesses are a formality required under Russian law during police searches) when the drugs were allegedly found on Urusov’s person.

In a statement submitted by his lawyer, Urusov describes his arrest as a kidnapping accompanied by beatings and threats. According to him, the men who arrested him forced him to write a statement, confessing that the packet of drugs they themselves had planted on him actually belonged to him; they threatened to kill Urusov if he refused. Moreover, they demanded that Urusov confess that his deputy in the trade union had given the packet to him. A plan had been sprung to completely eviscerate the union’s leadership. Urusov, however, refused to give false testimony against his comrade.

“The charges against Urusov are based on the testimony of law enforcement officers and biased witnesses,” Urusov’s lawyer recounted. “The signature on the protocol documenting the confiscation of the packet of narcotics was obtained through humiliation and threats. Urusov was taken to the woods, where shots were fired near his head, and he was beaten with batons and told he should get ready to die.”

On 26 December 2008, the Mirninsky District Court (city of Udachny) sentenced Urusov to six years’ imprisonment. On 12 May 2009, however, the Sakha Republic Supreme Court overturned the conviction. Urusov was freed in the courtroom. Ludmilla Alexeyeva and Lev Ponomarev, well-known human rights activists from the Moscow Helsinki Group, stood as surety for Urusov.

However, after a retrial on 26 June 2009, the Mirninsky District Court again sentenced Urusov to imprisonment, reducing the sentence only by a year.

In May 2010, the police officer in charge of Urusov’s arrest, Lieutenant Colonel Sergei Rudov, was himself arrested and convicted of fraud and abuse of power. He was charged with receiving 2.5 million rubles (US$80 000) from Alrosa. This money was disbursed to Rudov shortly after he arrested Urusov.

All these circumstances have convinced Russian and foreign human rights groups that his employer, Alrosa, had fabricated the case against Urusov. Trade unions launched a campaign of solidarity with Urusov. Public protests and other actions have been mounted on his behalf, not only in Russia, but also internationally. An appeal in support of Urusov’s release was signed by dozens of European intellectuals, public figures, and the International Trade Union Confederation while the website LabourStart conducted an email campaign.

The report of the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association also questions Urusov’s sentence. The Committee asks the Russian government to indicate whether, during the investigation and trial, evidence relating to the persecution of Urusov for trade union activities was examined and analysed. It requests that the government launch a new investigation and take steps to ensure the trade union leader’s early release.

In addition, in its final conclusions the Committee mentions the inclusion of trade union leaflets in the Russian federal list of “extremist” materials. The Committee believes that the inclusion of publications with union slogans in the list of extremist materials significantly impedes the right of unions to express their views. As emphasised in the Committee’s conclusions, this is an unacceptable restriction on trade union activities and a flagrant violation of the right to freedom of association. The Committee recalls that the right to express one’s opinion, including criticism of the government’s economic and social policy, is a key element of trade union rights.

In fact, the leaflets in question contained only the most basic information about the opportunities available for workers when they form trade unions and touched on the threats posed by the spread of agency labour and other forms of precarious employment. The declaration of such texts as “extremist” is a clear attempt to render illegal all forms of trade union organising. The ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association recommends that the Russian government take all necessary measures to remove trade union leaflets from the list of extremist materials as soon as possible. The government should also provide assurance that this situation will not happen again.

Despite the fact that the opinions rendered by the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association are only recommendations, the Russian government should pay heed to them. First, the body has repeatedly proved its impartiality when dealing with issues relating to freedom of association. Secondly, Urusov’s release and the implementation of the ILO’s other recommendations would serve as convincing proof that the concept of decent work really is part of the Russian government’s priorities. Such actions would be evidence that the eloquent declarations of its commitment to social partnership are not just a smokescreen concealing contempt for the principles of freedom of association and trade union organising, principles that form the basis of the ILO.

Anna Wolańska is the international secretary of NSZZ “Solidarność” and a member of the governing Body of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

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Putinism Comes to Quebec?

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/24/opinion/our-not-so-friendly-northern-neighbor.html

WHEN Vladimir V. Putin first came to power in Russia, Quebecers could not help but laugh. Poutine, as he is called in French, is also the name of a Québécois fast-food dish made of French fries, gravy and cheese. But these days the laughter is over, as Quebec gets a taste of Mr. Putin’s medicine.

For a change, Americans should take note of what is happening across the quiet northern border. Canada used to seem a progressive and just neighbor, but the picture today looks less rosy. One of its provinces has gone rogue, trampling basic democratic rights in an effort to end student protests against the Quebec provincial government’s plan to raise tuition fees by 75 percent.

On May 18, Quebec’s legislative assembly, under the authority of the provincial premier, Jean Charest, passed a draconian law in a move to break the 15-week-long student strike. Bill 78, adopted last week, is an attack on Quebecers’ freedom of speech, association and assembly. Mr. Charest has refused to use the traditional means of mediation in a representative democracy, leading to even more polarization. His administration, one of the most right-wing governments Quebec has had in 40 years, now wants to shut down opposition.

The bill threatens to impose steep fines of 25,000 to 125,000 Canadian dollars against student associations and unions — which derive their financing from tuition fees — in a direct move to break the movement. For example, student associations will be found guilty if they do not stop their members from protesting within university and college grounds.

During a street demonstration, the organization that plans the protest will be penalized if individual protesters stray from the police-approved route or exceed the time limit imposed by authorities. Student associations and unions are also liable for any damage caused by a third party during a demonstration.

These absurd regulations mean that student organizations and unions will be held responsible for behavior they cannot possibly control. They do not bear civil responsibility for their members as parents do for their children.

Freedom of speech is also under attack because of an ambiguous — and Orwellian — article in Bill 78 that says, “Anyone who helps or induces a person to commit an offense under this Act is guilty of the same offense.” Is a student leader, or an ordinary citizen, who sends a Twitter message about civil disobedience therefore guilty? Quebec’s education minister says it depends on the context. The legislation is purposefully vague and leaves the door open to arbitrary decisions.

Since the beginning of the student strike, leaders have told protesters to avoid violence. Protesters even condemned the small minority of troublemakers who had infiltrated the demonstrations. During the past four months of protests, there has never been the kind of rioting the city has seen when the local National Hockey League team, the Canadiens, wins or loses during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The biggest demonstration, which organizers estimate drew 250,000 people on May 22, was remarkably peaceful. Mr. Charest’s objective is not so much to restore security and order as to weaken student and union organizations. This law also creates a climate of fear and insecurity, as ordinary citizens can also face heavy fines.

Bill 78 has been fiercely denounced by three of four opposition parties in Quebec’s Legislature, the Quebec Bar Association, labor unions and Amnesty International. James L. Turk, the executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, called Bill 78 “a terrible act of mass repression” and “a weapon to suppress dissent.”

The law will remain in force only until July 1, 2013. The short duration says it all. It amounts to a temporary suspension of certain liberties and allows the government to avoid serious negotiations with student leaders. And it grants the authorities carte blanche for the abuse of power; just hours after it passed, police officers in Montreal began to increase the use of force against protesters.

Some critics have tried to portray the strike as a minority group’s wanting a free lunch. This is offensive to most Quebec students. Not only are they already in debt, despite paying low tuition fees, but 63 percent of them work in order to pay their university fees. The province has a very high rate of youth employment: about 57 percent of Quebecers between the ages of 15 and 24 work, compared with about 49 percent between the ages of 16 and 24 in the United States.

Both Quebec and Canada as a whole are pro-market. They also share a sense of solidarity embodied by their public health care systems and strong unions. Such institutions are a way to maintain cohesion in a vast, sparsely populated land. Now those values are under threat.

Americans traveling to Quebec this summer should know they are entering a province that rides roughshod over its citizens’ fundamental freedoms.

Laurence Bherer and Pascale Dufour are associate professors of political science at the University of Montreal.

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http://montreal.openfile.ca/blog/montreal/2012/explainer-first-24-hours-bill-78

Explainer: The first 24 hours of Bill 78

Posted by Justin Giovannetti on Saturday, May 19, 2012

After a rare nighttime debate at the National Assembly, Bill 78 was approved by a vote of 68-48 on Friday afternoon with the nearly full support of the Liberal caucus and the right-wing Coalition Avenir Quebec.

Given the tongue-twisting name of, “An act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend,” the bill imposes severe limitations on a Quebecers’ right to hold a spontaneous assembly:

  • Semesters at campuses impacted by the student strike are immediately suspended, due to start again in August.
  • Demonstrations with more than 50 people must provide the police with a time, location and duration at least eight hours in advance. The police may modify any of these parameters at any time.
  • All gatherings are banned within 50 metres of a campus.
  • Student associations not “employing appropriate means to induce” their members to comply with the law are guilty of violating the law. Individuals also fall under this and can be guilty by omission or for providing advice.
  • Fines range from $1,000 for individuals to $125,000 for student associations. Fines double for repeat offences.

Opposition from legal scholars
Many of Quebec’s organizations and professional associations showed some concern about the law. Typically a quiet and conservative organization, the Quebec Bar came out swinging against the bill.

“This bill infringes many of the fundamental rights of our citizens. The basis of a democracy is the rule of law. We must respect the law. We must also respect fundamental freedoms, like the freedom to protest peacefully, the freedom of speech and the freedom of association,” Bar President Louis Masson told The Globe and Mail.

Speaking to CBC’s The House, former judge John Gomery was critical of the law. While some believe that the law would not stand up to a court hearing, a sunset clause of July 1, 2013 will probably keep it out of the Supreme Court.

“My view is that this legislation is part of the extreme reaction that this debate has provoked. Violent demonstrations provoke violent reactions,” Gomery told CBC host Evan Solomon. “I think it is surely going to be contested before the courts.”

Quebec favours the law
According to a CROP poll commissioned by La Presse, 66 per cent of Quebecers are in favour of the law. Some are discounting the poll because of its small sample of 800 responses. The poll also showed a record low level of Quebecers supporting a tuition freeze: 32 per cent.

CLASSE takes down calendar
So that it is not found guilty of aiding protest that might not be properly planned or executed, the student coalition CLASSE removed a calendar from its website where students added planned activities. A central point for organizing protests, CLASSE was facing a fine of $125,000 for the first offence.

Montreal police lines jammed by people filing “protest reports”
In a bid to undermine Bill 78, hundreds of people called their local Montreal police precincts on Friday, attempting to file plans for “protests” composed of 50 friends going out for an evening. Under the law filing these plans of a dubious value is required.

According to the Montreal police, most of the plans filed were bogus.

It’s all Greek to Margaret
In a column for The Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente compared Quebec’s tuition protesters to debt-riddled Greece. While criticizing the province’s “cradle-to-grave” social system, Wente claimed that rioting students are “overwhelmingly middle- to upper-middle class.” Calling herself appalled, Wente concluded by stating that Quebec students would “shut down Alberta” if given the chance. Greek Quebecers were not happy with the comparison.

Following the Russian example?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has revealed that he is looking to bring forward a new law to crush Russia’s protest movement: $32,000 fines for people engaged in unauthorized protests. The Putin-Charest photomontages are imminent.

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http://montreal.mediacoop.ca/blog/bernans/10947
Charest’s Draconian Law Sets Stage for Québec Pussy Riot!
Posted on May 18, 2012 by David Bernans

Pussy Riot already likes red
Pussy Riot already likes red

Unable to break the will of students who have been on strike for a record 14 weeks protesting an 82% tuition increase, Charest’s Liberal government has taken a page from Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin. Education Minister Michelle Courchesne has tabled Bill 78, the Act to enable students to receive instruction from the postsecondary institutions they attend.

Are you planning on a Barbeque or a soccer game in a public park in the province of Québec? Make sure to invite no more than eight people. Once Bill 78 becomes law, the organizer of a gathering of 10 or more people* in a public place will be required to notify the police in writing eight hours in advance of said gathering with a full itinerary of the group’s movements.

Obviously, police are not going to arrest some kids at a soccer game, but what if the kids on one team all have red squares on their uniforms and the other team has the Liberal Party of Québec (PLQ) logo? And what if the PLQ players can pick up the ball with their hands and have referees remove the red square goal keeper whenever she gets in the way? Has this innocent game now become an illegal political gathering, protesting the draconian Bill 78 without a permit?

These are the kind of tactics being used by protestors in Putin’s Russia to avoid similar government restrictions on freedom of assembly. Such tactics illustrate the problem of enforcing bans on unpermitted demonstrations without looking like authoritarian thugs. By targeting the impromptu concert-demos of the anti-authoritarian feminist punk rock group Pussy Riot, Russian authorities have given the phenomenon international notoriety.

Premier Jean Charest has put forward this legislation ostensibly to calm the fires of revolution that have caught the attention of international media. He wants to rehabilitate Québec as a tranquil tourist destination. But perhaps, instead of legislating an end to a social movement, Charest has just given birth to Québec’s own Pussy Riot!

David Bernans is a Québec-based writer and translator. Follow him on twitter @dbernans.

* Bill 78 was amended after this article was written. The relevant section of the legislation now applies to gatherings of 50 or more people.

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http://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/canada-politics/quebec-bill-78-echoes-russia-anti-protest-idea-202141533.html

Quebec Bill 78 echoes Russia’s anti-protest idea: is it Jean or Vladimir Charest?
By Andy Radia | Canada Politics – Sun, 20 May, 2012

It is a little ironic that the Quebec government’s Bill 78 came down on the same day a Russian anti-protest bill was to be introduced.

Friday was supposed to be the first reading of a draconian draft law in Russia that would raise the maximum fines for organizers of unsanctioned protests to $48,000 from $1,600. Participants’ fines would increase to $32,000 from $160.

Quebec’s legislation, which passed Friday, also sets multiple requirements on public demonstrations and threatens stiff penalties to people who disrupt college and university classes.

The bill has been met with a chorus of criticism.

Louis Masson, the head of the Quebec Bar Association, says the Bill “clearly limits” the right to freedom of assembly. Constitutional lawyer Julius Grey told CBC News that Bill 78 is a “terrible law” that suspends the freedom to association, express and protest, without sufficient reason. Pauline Marois, leader of the opposition Parti Québécois, said it was “one of the darkest days of Quebec democracy” and demanded Premier Jean Charest hold elections because of the unpopularity of the law.

And, according to the Associated Press, the U.S. consulate in Montreal has warned visitors and U.S. expatriates to be careful because of the demonstrations.

Meanwhile, according to the New York Times, Russian President Vladimir  Putin will have to wait for his legislation “to cope with an increasingly assertive opposition.” The anti-protest bill in that country was abruptly delayed until next week because of disagreements within the government.

What’s contained in Quebec’s Bill 78? Openfile.ca has published this list explaining the new rules:
-Semesters at campuses impacted by the student strike are immediately suspended, due to start again in August.
– Demonstrations with more than 50 people must provide the police with a time, location and duration at least eight hours in advance. The police may modify any of these parameters at any time.
– All gatherings are banned within 50 metres of a campus.
– Student associations not “employing appropriate means to induce” their members to comply with the law are guilty of
violating the law. Individuals also fall under this and can be guilty by omission or for providing advice.
– Fines range from $1,000 for individuals to $125,000 for student associations. Fines double for repeat offences.

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Filed under international affairs, political repression, protests, student movements, trade unions