Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev holds a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets and Chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions Mikhail Shmakov
Dmitry Medvedev: Colleagues, we have agreed with Mr Shmakov (Mikhail Shmakov, Chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions) that the new government will work actively with the trade unions as soon as it gets firmly on its feet. But in actual fact this work never stopped, and hence we have agreed to meet to discuss our current affairs. Dialogue between the government and trade unions must be on a regular basis and active. I hope that Ms Golodets (Olga Golodets, Deputy Prime Minister), who is responsible for social issues, will pay particular attention to this dialogue. I also hope that the trade unions will take an active stance on this matter, because Mr Shmakov attends government meetings. He always takes a clear stand in the interests of working people. This is as it should be: feel free to speak your mind.
We should also think about advancing legislation in the social area, because there are many sensitive issues. The level of social partnership and dialogue between the authorities, employers and trade unions depends on the quality of the legislation, and all parties are interested in developing effective social and labour relations built on a modern foundation. We don’t have to cling to the past, but on the other hand, we should remember that there are certain standards and certain international requirements which both Russia and (addressing Shmakov) you and I must comply with. By the way, we have spoken about this more than once.
A few more words about the government’s plans. We will of course continue to raise salaries for education, healthcare, culture and social services employees. You probably remember that our goal is to raise teachers’ salaries to the average for a given region’s economy, and the salaries of preschool employees to the average level in a given region’s educational system by the end of the year. We have a very ambitious goal for 2018: to raise the salaries of the staff of cultural facilities, primary schools and vocational training schools, as well as social workers, to the region’s average. The average salaries of doctors, university lecturers and researchers should be twice as high as the average in a given region by 2018. These are very ambitious goals on the whole and it is clear that they require considerable attention on the part of the government, while the trade unions should take part in all the related processes. There is also a financial aspect, because achieving this goal will require money, which will be quite tricky given the current difficult international financial climate. But I don’t doubt for a second that we will achieve these goals. We discussed the issue of employment yesterday, but we can talk about it some more.
Mikhail Shmakov: Of course we can.
Dmitry Medvedev: The issue… I think that this is always a topical issue, so let’s talk about it now. Whatever we do, we need to keep a close eye on the situation, especially in those regions where the unemployment level is considerably higher than the national average, because the average unemployment level for the country as a whole is tolerable.
Mikhail Shmakov: Yes, the average level is.
Dmitry Medvedev: It is tolerable on average, but in fact the situation differs from region to region. Unemployment is a problem in the North Caucasus, in single-industry towns and some other areas, so we need to keep monitoring this issue as well and regularly exchange information.
And the final thing I wanted to say at the beginning of this meeting. In December we will host a conference of the International Labour Organisation. It will be a major event, which will be attended by tripartite delegations of governments, trade unions and employers. To the best of my knowledge, we have invited representatives of nearly 90 countries.
Olga Golodets: Yes.
Dmitry Medvedev: We will have to participate.
Mikhail Shmakov: Mr Medvedev, thank you for your introductory remarks. I would like to say that we maintain continuous dialogue with your Deputy Olga Golodets, who handles labour and social issues. Such negotiations are our usual routine. And I would like to say that the new government format, which was discussed with you prior to the government’s formation, and the reinstatement of the Ministry of Labour, should considerably improve the situation with monitoring and regulating the labour market because, unfortunately, previously we faced setbacks in this area.
Dmitry Medvedev: Sorry for interrupting, but I’ll be frank. I had thought about the government’s structure for a long time, including various pros and cons. I subsequently recalled your arguments and the arguments of other colleagues. And I decided that we should propose a structure that separates labour and healthcare, despite possible costs involved.
Mikhail Shmakov: I believe that the practical work of this ministry, which is, of course, asserting itself today, will show… And, we all would like this work to be constructive, so that it positively influences the decision-making process, and the decisions benefit society as a whole. And, most importantly, we hope that they facilitate the creation of a civilised labour market because we still face numerous shortcomings in this regard. But, first of all, now I would like to say that we are, of course, concerned about the ambitious task to considerably increase salaries that you mentioned. We believe that this is all long overdue.
Our state, country and government have now reached the stage when they are resolving specific issues and charting specific plans for handling such matters. We believe that this should be done by all means and without delay because I realise that there are officials who wish to postpone raising salaries and insist on channeling money into other areas instead. I believe that this is the most realistic and cost-effective investment because it influences the situation nationwide, as well as the people’s mood and attitude towards the government, life and subsequent national development scenarios.
Raising the wages of public sector employees is also very important for us, as some private employers say cynically: “If the state pays such low wages to its employees, why should I pay high wages to mine?” I always argue with this viewpoint. However, in this case, such a decision will give us new arguments while concluding collective bargaining agreements in the private sector with the employers we are negotiating.
Second, I would like to say a few words about the minimum wage. In our opinion, this is a very important issue. The minimum wage is a certain regulator, making it possible to... We are divided on this issue. There are ample opportunities for discussion, but nonetheless we should make headway on this issue and also on the matter of the consumer basket. To the best of my knowledge, the government has examined the consumer basket issue and different approaches to it at its meeting yesterday. I would like to say that since earlier, since the previous Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development, we do not quite agree with the existing proposal. We think that certain ratios in the methodology should be altered, and this should be negotiated as well because the consumption patterns and the family and individual spending patterns have become seriously modified. We believe, for example, that the ratios should be adjusted for greater spending on catering, services, various payments, fees, taxes, and so on. The existing ratio is based on outmoded data. We want the Ministry of Labour to calculate these ratios and figures more objectively.
I would like to ask you as the prime minister to give a shot in the arm to the Federal Service for State Statistics (Rosstat). Rosstat is a very sound organisation, but it fails to provide all of the required materials. Perhaps these were not in high demand when we did not have the Ministry of Labour… Now they have such an opportunity. They have the basic data that they collect, but they do not provide samples on all of the issues because no one asks them to do so. Today, they say that you have to pay if you want Rosstat to provide various statistics. But the Ministry of Labour, as a component of the government, will request, and we hope, receive more accurate data for analysis. For example, it must be clear about the minimum wage amount and what proportion of residents makes more or less than this sum. We have estimates of our own – also based on Rosstat figures. We believe that a year ago between 1 and 1.5 million people made less than the minimum wage. Now new figures keep cropping up, and without permanent monitoring it will be problematic for the government, let alone others, to conduct talks.
Dmitry Medvedev: Will you tell me what exactly do you want from the Rosstat?
Mikhail Shmakov: I think that the ministries in charge of social issues and the Ministry of Labour should make an inventory of their needs and submit it to them as an assignment. They’ll have to make necessary calculations because they have the basic figures.
Another important subject is the functioning of the Russian Trilateral Commission. The government has created a ramified system of trilateral relations, including the Russian Trilateral Commission that signs general agreements and regional trilateral commissions. However, we hope that the new government will invigorate this work. I would like to ask you to help bring it to a higher level. First, the government coordinator occasionally cannot be responsible for the entire government. In the previous iteration, he spoke on the Ministry of Healthcare and Social Development's behalf. Today, we do not want the coordinator, and I am sure Maxim Topilin is likely to be appointed…
Olga Golodets: Yes, he has already been appointed.
Mikhail Shmakov: We don’t want him to speak on behalf of the Ministry of Labour alone. It is important that he...
Dmitry Medvedev: I see, I see.
Mikhail Shmakov: This should be a common opinion. However, some ministries believe that the Ministry of Labour should tackle its own issues. But we, the Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Economic Development have a different opinion. I would like to raise this issue, if not to complain.
Dmitry Medvedev: I did not doubt that you were hinting at them.
Mikhail Shmakov: Yes, of course. Because if the Ministry of Finance wants to tackle labour issues, then it should assume responsibility for the entire package.
Dmitry Medvedev: I will tell you a little secret: The Ministry of Finance wants to tackle everything.
Mikhail Shmakov: Yes, I know.
Dmitry Medvedev: This is because everyone needs money, and they believe that they are responsible for everything. I see, I see.
Mikhail Shmakov: Consequently, we, the Trilateral Commission, need certain assistance. And, quite possibly, it would be useful and effective if you attended one of the first meetings and if you set the tasks for those involved in the trilateral talks.
Dmitry Medvedev: I see. I would like to make a few comments. First, all of the issues that you have just listed will remain in the sphere of our cooperation. The government will pay attention to such issues. You should not doubt this at all. As for the Trilateral Commission, I believe that this is, on the whole, a rather effective instrument. Actually, the commission has become such an instrument in the past few years. And, of course, we should maintain all of the achievements and make the commission’s work even more advanced and multifaceted. I also do not object to the idea that you voiced during one of the first meetings, that is, for my personal involvement. This is normal because these issues are extremely important. Representatives of the government, employers and trade unions jointly tackle such issues. There would be no harm if the prime minister also took part in the commission’s work.
As for the government’s position, we will naturally do our best to work out a common stance. Ms Golodets has all of the required authorities in this area. I am even ready to accept the blame here because departments often express different positions because they represent different aspects of the government’s activity. However, we need to sum up all of the opinions and adopt a final decision. Top government leaders, the deputy prime minister in charge and, naturally, the prime minister as such are responsible for this.
As for the other issues that you mentioned, we will, of course, continue our joint work because this is exactly what determines the living standards in Russia. We have seen major developments over the past few years. To be honest, we coped with the first crisis rather effectively. This was achieved by the government, trade unions and employers. Incidentally, this was made possible because few of them demonstrated a parasitic attitude. On the contrary, they mostly acted in a responsible manner, although we had to take action against some of them.
Mikhail Shmakov: Correct them.
Dmitry Medvedev: Correct and even punish some of them in line with the law. But why am I talking about this now? You know, the situation is complicated. Yesterday, government members had to re-examine the issue of anti-crisis measures. I hope that – if need be – we will work just as energetically as in 2008-2009 to cope with economic problems. However, it would certainly be desirable if such problems did not arise.
Mikhail Shmakov: Yes, sure.
Dmitry Medvedev: Although this does not only depend on us.
Mikhail Shmakov: Mr Medvedev, this implies 2009, rather than the 2008 period, because the transition from 2008 to 2009...
Dmitry Medvedev: We worked more actively in 2009, correct.
Mikhail Shmakov: At the time, trilateral anti-crisis measures were virtually implemented. Almost all of our proposals and those of employers, as well as government proposals, were coordinated and included in the economic-stimulus package. And this enabled us to work in such a well-coordinated manner.
Dmitry Medvedev: That’s exactly what I am talking about. We will act in the same way, if need be.