But people are already facing punishment for making complaints, as if making a complaint is the equivalent of starting a riot. Russian employers’ tolerance levels have dropped so low that they won’t accept any objections. The legal, institutional mechanisms for regulating labour relations have been pushed aside, and unconditional obedience has come to the fore.
Has the number of labour protests in Russia changed?
The number is growing constantly. In 2008, the year our project started, we recorded only 95 labour protests, but in 2009 (which was already a time of global crisis) it was 272.
In the early 2010s, industry and banks somehow recovered, but in terms of labour relations, nothing changed. The number of protests then stabilised at between 250 and 270 per year.
This continued until 2014, when a fresh crisis began [the devaluation of the ruble following the fall in world oil prices and the first wave of sanctions following the annexation of Crimea]. In 2015, there were more than 400 protests.
2020 was a record-breaking year, when we collated 437 protests [against the backdrop of the global pandemic]. Last year, there were 389.
Each new crisis leads to a new surge of protests. Moreover, in the last three years, the up and down swing of protests has been much more dramatic; previously, the growth rate was smooth.
There’s an assumption that when a certain number of protests is reached, the situation will be qualitatively different. What is the point of no return? We know that 437 protests a year isn’t it. So, how many: 500, 600, 700?
Which employment sectors protest the most?
Until 2013, manufacturing was the main area of protest within the Russian economy. In 2014 to 2018, the centre of gravity shifted to sectors of informal employment [where workers don’t have contracts or are considered self-employed]: construction, local public services and so on.
Somehow, trade unions manage to operate in Russian industry, and large enterprises are subject to stricter control by the authorities and forced to comply with the law. But the informal economy is a sector without any oversight, where no one observes any laws.
This reinforces the potential for conflict. Not only does an informal employer feel that he has a free hand, but his employees also consider themselves free of all restrictions.