State of the Contemporary Russian Workforce

Tahir Asghar

The two books – ‘Development of the Workforce in Contemporary Russia’ by O.A. Mazurov and the book by G.V. Krainev “Moscow: from a City of Industry and Science to a Mess of Shops and Offices”, explore in detail the process of unfolding of capitalist reforms in Russia and document their terrible consequences not only for the economy but also for the majority of its population. Russia from the status of being one of the most advanced and largest economies in the world during the Soviet period now finds itself relegated to the position of a developing economy.

The most striking feature of the economic crisis arising from the economic reforms was de-industrialisation of the country and the accompanying deterioration in the Research and Development infrastructure including higher education, fundamental research and development of professional skills and education. It, consequently, also led to a sharp deterioration in the living and working conditions of the overwhelming majority of the working people.

G.V. Krainev in the second subsection ‘The Structure of the Collective Worker of Russian Economy’ of chapter 1 gives a detailed overview of the changes in the structure of the workforce and in the conditions of production and reproduction of the labour force in the economy of the Russian Federation over a period of a decade and a half since the beginning of the capitalist reforms in Russia.

According to the author, a negative demographic process is taking place in Russia and a decline in the total population by 7 million has occurred between 1990 and 2000. The number of people employed in the Russian economy has declined to 65.4 million in 2002 from 75.3 million in 1992 i.e. a decline of more than 13 percent. One of the far reaching consequences of this decline is that it will lead to a decrease in the number of employable population and a subsequent pressure on an individual worker, which can only be overcome by modernising the economy especially the industrial sector.

The demographic structure of the collective work force has also undergone negative changes. The share of older workers (45-59 yrs of age) has significantly increased (from 30% to 36%) in the total number of employable between 2000 and 2006 and an accompanying decrease in the employable till the age of 20 will bring about absolute contraction in the pool of the employable in the next 10-15 years. The author further states that ‘in the 1990s the major factor responsible for the decline in the work potential of the significant section of men and women was the promotion of a parasitic life style in the overall background of closing down of factories, scientific and research institutes and destruction of large agricultural structures.’ Such a demographic situation characterised by a severe shortfall of highly qualified work force also acts as a limiting factor for productive investments in the economy of the country.

In Russia in order to provide conducive conditions for the expanded reproduction of capital it has become necessary to come out of the ‘demographic pit’ by bringing down the death and increasing the birth rates in the country.

According to the official census the average life span in Russia was 67 years, 72 years for women and 56 years for men. This is 10-15 years less than in the West. High death rate among the employable population is one of the striking feature in the depopulation process. Male deaths account for about 80% of total deaths in the employable population. If the current trend continues in the future then only 58% of the youngsters who have reached 16 years of age at present will be alive at the time when they reach the age of 60 years.

Death rates in Russia are significantly higher than in countries of Europe and the USA. The death rate for Russia is 16 per 1000 persons, while for the USA, France and Netherlands it constitutes only 8 per 1000 persons. The inadequate state of the national health system certainly is a big factor in the increasing trend in the death and illness rates. In Russia the total yearly expenditure on the health system constitutes only 2% of the GDP whereas in the USA it is 9%, west European countries – 6-8% and central European countries – 5-7%. More than 64 per cent of the medical equipment in Russia is obsolete. Average per capita expenditure on health in the world is about $500, in developed countries – $3000 and in Russia – $115. Overt and covert commercialisation of the health system is underway so that now more than 50 per cent of patients have to pay from their own pockets. Extremely low wages and salaries of the health personnel forces them to over work and contributes to increasing corruption. On per capita expenditure on health, Russia is ranked 75 in the world out of 130 countries. Even the very inadequate resources that are made available are being utilised very inefficiently.

Among the most important reasons underlying the absolutely catastrophic for Russia situation one can point out the following: extremely difficult and harmful working conditions, increasing number of deaths at work place, fall in the real incomes by a factor of 3 for the overwhelming section of the population leading to inadequate diets, housing facilities and health provisions that is now approximately at the level of the 1960s, lack of medicines, stress related to crisis situations and social pessimism.

Diet. The weakening of the regulatory functions of the state in the sphere of control and standardisation of food products and other consumer products has had a direct negative and adverse impact on the health of the population of the country. The system of state standards (GOST) has been greatly compromised and distorted. Most of the products are being produced not in accordance with the GOST but out of technical feasibility and profitability for the private producer and not out of any concern for the consumers. Certification of production of many consumer items is being curtailed, where certification is conducted it is done infrequently and there is practically no social control. Massive imports of food products and other items of consumption with expired dates of use, additives for conserving and other ‘taste enhancers’ are cumulatively undermining the health of the Russian population.

Another factor undermining the production and reproduction of the work force is undernourishment that has acquired massive proportions. Consumption of meat and milk products in 2000 had come down to the level of 1960s, of fish and marine products to the level of 1950s and the caloric content was provided mainly by consumption of bread, potatoes and sugar. These are just average figures and hidden behind them is a much more sorry state of affairs. The author gives figures for consumption of major food products by groups of the employed divided according to their income. This data shows that most of the employed consume less than the food norms (by themselves very conservative) established by the Russian Academy of Sciences and about 50% of all employed can be characterised as definitely undernourished. He further goes on to state that in the official statistics of Russia miserable poverty is substituted by the notion of ‘needy’. A majority of the employed in Russia spends about 33 percent of their income on food where as in the USA only 10-15 per cent of the income is spent on food. This speaks of the low level of incomes of the employed in Russia.

Housing. A majority of the employed population of Russia lives in flats that have less number of rooms than the number of residents and this can also considered as a limiting factor for a normal reproduction of the work force. Each member of the family must have at least a room for one self. Much was done in the Soviet period towards achieving this goal.

In the 1990s, a sharp decrease in the construction of new flats took place in Russia. According to the calculations of the All Russian Centre for Standard of Living, inadequate living conditions is one of the major contributing factor for the poverty of 28 percent of the employed with earnings slightly above the poverty line. Another 14 per cent of those under the poverty line can also be added to this number. The picture will be bleaker if we add that absence of hot water supply or one room for two or three persons is not considered as a negative criterion. About 70-80 percent of the pool can be considered as significantly worn out and investments in this sector have fallen dramatically in the period since the collapse. As the income of the majority of the employed population is extremely low most of the employed are in no position to buy new flats. In fact, their incomes are so low that they can hardly afford even to carry out repairs of their worn out flats. The situation with so called ‘social housing’ is so bad that even there it may take 50 years to provide flats to all those who need one today. In fact most of those in queue for social housing will not live to get one if the volume of work on these projects is not increased by a factor of 5 or 6.

Thus most of the new houses are being purchased either by the rich or the well-off sections of the society. This is the section that is primarily the purchaser of the flats constructed during the Soviet period and now ‘vacated’ due to high death rate of the residents of such housing.

The working conditions at work place saw a sharp deterioration and subsequently the increasing health related expenditure due to deterioration of the workers’ health put a huge pressure on the profit margins of the enterprises as well as on the incomes of the workers themselves. The decreasing level of income of the large majority of the population has led to extremely high social differentiation in the country. Obsolete technology and equipment and an ineffective system of state control are the major reasons for the deteriorating working conditions. Another reason is the helplessness of the workers themselves. They are in no position to demand and force the capitalist employer to implement safety measures.

Extremely high degree of physical obsoleteness of the fixed capital – more than 53 per cent in the extractive sector, 46.8 percent in the processing industries, 51 per cent in the energy and municipal sector and over 70 per cent in agriculture – and old technology and equipment are the main reasons behind the prevalence of highly harmful and difficult conditions of work for majority of the employed in the Russian Federation. Multiple deaths due to collapse of the building housing production are not rare or infrequent.

It is more difficult to account for the effects of harmful conditions on the health of the employed as it shows up only after a fairly long period of time and gives the private employee the opportunity to refuse any compensation to the employee or even to take measures to minimise such effects. The number of employed in sectors with adverse or harmful conditions of work has increased by 22 per cent in the industrial sector, 46 per cent in transport sector and 24 per cent in construction between 2005 and 2007. Work related traumas and illness have increased at the rate of 15 per cent yearly between 2004 and 2007.

Adverse working conditions are most widespread in the nuclear, chemical, extractive, metallurgical and agricultural sectors. Even in other sectors working conditions can be quite harmful as in the medical sector. Between 1998 and 2007 about 13 thousand people died as a result of adverse conditions and lack of safety measures.

This is not a full list of underlying factors but still they are sufficient to explain the unprecedented fall in the capacity to eke out a living for a huge section of the Russian population. According to certain calculations cited by the author the economic and material damage that has been inflicted by early deaths in the country is approximately US $1.5 trillion.

The average life span of a male in Russia is 56 years and, consequently, more than half the total number of males die within the employable age. If we also add that some of them are also seriously injured for a long period of time, then about 25 percent of males in the employable age are unable to work. Thus, a number of sectors of the economy that predominantly employ men – extractive sector, metallurgy, transport etc., – experience severe shortage of male workers.

The education level of the collective work force in Russia, on the whole, is quite adequate to the demands of the much lower level of production in the country despite a severe shortfall in the number of engineers. During the Soviet period a massive infrastructure at all levels – from professional courses to highly specific R&D institutes – was put in place to produce specialists for the most varied requirements of the national economy in sufficient numbers. This education complex was financed exclusively by the state. Future income was not the primary motivation for education but on the contrary it was the opportunity to pursue a profession of one’s liking that motivated aspirants to take up studies in one field or another at one level or another.

During the 1990s the education system on the whole fared slightly better than manufacturing and industrial sector in general.

The author comes to the conclusion that the reproduction of the work force, especially the class of workers, in the post-Soviet Russian Federation has suffered as a result of the capitalist reforms in the country. Their numbers have come down and now constitute just half the pre-1990 level. ‘The qualification, professional, sectoral, educational, regional and age structure of the employed in Russia does not satisfy the requirements of a modern production and economy. Their physical state is significantly worse when compared with those of other countries and in the past when compared with those in the erstwhile Socialist Russia.

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