Advocacy of migrant workers’ rights

The economical and social situation in many Central Asian countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States forces many people to go to Russia “for a better lot”: to earn money and support family and many relatives who retain at home. But instead of the expected financial rewards, they quite often get in trouble from the very first day in Russia. The reasons are diverse: semiliteracy of the migrants themselves, lack of language skills, lack of official information about Russian migrant and labor law requirements, which should be provided by responsible state services. All this leads to the situations which the workers of Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” face: exploitation of migrants by people and companies who make a profit from migrants’ legal ignorance.

For instance, in 2010 the migrants from Uzbekistan suffered at the hands of the company “Zakonnoye pravo” (Legal rights). They asked Zakonnoye pravo for help obtaining a work permit for foreign citizens who do not need visa to come to Russia. They then turned to Memorial.

To attract clients, the company “Zakonnoye pravo” uses state symbols (the state flag, emblem of the Russian Federation) and the name “City service for migrants”. Using these symbols, the company misleads clients, pretending to be an official public service and having special powers to help obtain a work permit.

The company “Zakonnoye pravo” promised our clients help passing medical board required to get a work permit at the Federal migration service. Contracts between these citizens of Uzbekistan and the company “Zakonnoye pravo” were made. According to these contracts, the company had promised to issue the documents in two weeks. The migrants paid for this service in advance and waited for the promised work permits.

However after two weeks they did not get any document proving their right to work in the territory of Saint Petersburg. Nothing was given to them neither after a month, nor after two months. Confused by this trickery they asked for a refund. The company told them to fill out an application to refuse the services and promised to consider their applications in two weeks. After this time, the migrants were told that according to the contract, after refusing services they would not be reimbursed the money. The company “Zakonnoye pravo” probably behaved as in the proverb “You can’t do the impossible”.

As a result of the company’s “actions”, none of the applicants got the promised work permit, lost their money and now violating Russian migration law, left the country after 90 days.

The experts of ADC Memorial tried to meet with the general director of the company “Zakonnoye pravo”, S.V. Zagorskaya, but she ignored all proposals to meet. Instead of her, a young lady accompanied by a bodyguard, came to the office of Memorial and introduced herself as a representative of the company’s legal deptartment. She promised to examine the situation and punish the remiss workers of the firm.

Understanding that the strategy of Zakonnoye pravo is to drag out the issuing of the documents, Memorial lawyers analyzed the documents and activities of the company, and found the activities of Zakonnoye pravo violating several statutes of current Russian law. The ADC “Memorial” wrote all of their suspicions and arguments in a complaint which was sent to the St Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office. It turned out that the office already knew about the activities of the company “Zakonnoye pravo”. The city prosecutor’s office and then the investigation department of the main interior department of St Petersburg sent notices that a suit was filed against the company “Zakonnoye pravo” and similar companies working with common name “Inostranets” (Foreigner). With the help of Memorial, the citizens of Uzbekistan who suffered from the activities of Zakonnoye pravo, were interviewed by an investigator of the main Interior department of St Petersburg and recognized as aggrieved. After the investigation the data of the case will be sent to the court which will deal justice to all participants of this cheating scheme.

Another problem which legal migrant workers face in the Russian Federation is unlawful behavior of employers. Many foreigners were cheated by the company “Megapolis SPb”. (Located at 190013, St Petersburg, 4th Krasnoarmeyskaya str., 9 (http://www.megapolisspb.ru/).

Pursuant to the information provided at the website of the company, and confirmed by migrant workers, Memorial examined the activities of Megapolis SPb, including the so called assignment (renting) of staff to another company. One of the variants to decrease costs of both companies participating in a deal. Usually this service is called outsourcing or outstaffing, but these terms are quite ambiguous as they are not legally defined. The idea of outsourcing is that one company which has a contract with the workers (in our case Megapolis SPb) rents its personnel to another company usually to do some unqualified and hard labor. The staff hired by such a company completely or partly replaces the workers of another company and work only for the client. The client does not pay any wages or vacation pay to these workers, but settles accounts with the issuing company (in the case Megapolis SPb).

In fact it went like this: the migrant workers signed contracts with Megapolis SPb. They read them before signing, but did not get them a copy, instead getting various excuses from Megapolis SPb. Then the migrant workers were sent to work for the chain shop “Pyaterochka”. Wages were supposed to be 650 rubles a day. A work day was usually 14-15 hours, workers were not allowed to go to sales area (even to buy food during lunch-hour), they did not have a lunch-break (they had 10-15 minutes lunch-break for 14-15 hours of work), and they had no days off.

After 45 days of work a migrant worker got wages for only 30 days. The rest of the money was withheld because of different farfetched reasons such as issuing of medical certificate (even though everyone had it), apron’s cost (uniform), and a “discharge cost” (when a person could not bear such work and left the position). Quite often the workers did not get any payment as having violated work duties, according to the company.

Thus the backwages of Megapolis SPb grow twofold after each work term. The money for unpaid 15 days is a kind of means to keep the workers. The longer a worker stays at Megapolis SPb, the more difficult it is for him or her to leave the job as the backwages are not paid upon leaving Megapolis SPb. Not everyone is able to refuse earned money. Megapolis SPb also uses different penalty provisions (deduction from wages) – for being late for work, being late after lunch break, or “early” finishing of work day.

Some migrants start working before getting a work permit (Megapolis SPb or its affiliates also issue work permits). For issuing a permit, passports are taken away.

The company “Megapolis SPb” violates labor law which carries disciplinary and financial liability, and only in a borderline cases, civil, administrative or criminal liability. However the lawyers of the ADC “Memorial” think that the activities of the Co Ltd “Megapolis SPb” are grounds for prosecution under the Criminal code of the Russian Federation: it is human trafficking: the buying and selling of human beings, other commercialization of people, also the recruitment, transportation, transfer, concealment or exploitation of human beings. In this case there is special aim to exploit human being (use of him by other persons for slave work (services), and his or her dependent state) which is sufficient to qualify this case as a crime.

This crime is dangerous for society because it undermines personal liberty guaranteed by article 22 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. This right is violated by keeping a worker by financial enslavement (nonpayment of wages for worked days, penalty provisions), and limiting his or her freedom of movement (taking away identification documents, and lack of money to return to their home country and so on). Migrant workers are unable to refuse working due to conditions over which they have out of their control. A migrant worker might become dependent easily, for instance because of hopeless life conditions.

As in the case with the Co Ltd “Zakonnoye pravo”, the ADC “Memorial” prepared and sent a request to the St Petersburg Prosecutor’s Office to investigate human trafficking and bring the guilty persons to justice.

Dmirty Poltavsky



Эта запись так же доступна на: Russian