Airport Union Calls for Change

Airport Union Calls for Change

Published: September 28, 2011 (Issue # 1676)

ST. PETERSBURG — One of two ground services trade unions at the city’s Pulkovo Airport plans to hold a meeting on Oct. 3 to demand the improvement of working conditions, Interfax reported last week.

The Sotsprof trade union intends to demand a raise in salaries for its members. With a current average salary of 20,000 to 25,000 rubles ($630 to $788) per month, the last review of salaries took place three years ago, Fontanka cited Vladimir Makarov, deputy head of the trade union, as saying.

The trade union, which represents about 650 members, also plans to demand that the workplace undergo a safety inspection.

The trade union plans to hold the meeting in front of the airport’s administration building, Makarov said.

The labor rights of the airport’s ground workers have been seriously violated but the workers’ appeals to the State Labor Inspection had no effect, he said.

“I am a rescue worker. Every day, dozens of planes fly near us, exposing us to extreme amounts of vibration and toxic fumes,” Interfax reported Makarov as saying. “In our room there are sacks filled with chemicals and we inhale all of that. My medical certificate lists at least eight harmful factors present in the workplace, but none of them are reflected in my salary.”

Makarov said the airport’s work schedule is violated when Pulkovo employees are required to work extra hours due to increased passenger numbers and the opening of new checkpoints.

“Many of our employees have to stand for 12 hours a day, especially the women who screen the luggage. They stand near the X-ray machines and are not given any radiation detectors. Once we measured the radiation, and the levels from those machines could even be detected outside,” Makarov said.

Vyacheslav Zhuiko, head of Pulkovo’s Sotsprof union, said that the main aim of the industrial action “is to have the workers’ needs listened to, and to have essential care taken of their health.”

Pulkovo Airport is operated by the Vozdushnye Vorota Severnoi Stolitsy (VVSS) consortium, which said it always tries to build a constructive dialogue with the trade unions. However, representatives of Sotsprof did not present the company with detailed demands regarding the improvement of working conditions for the employees, VVSS’s press service claimed.

“At the moment, members of Sotsprof do not want to meet with representatives of VVSS,” it said.

The press service said that Sotsprof had not advised VVSS of any events planned for Oct. 3.

“Strikes in the transport industry are prohibited by law. Holding a meeting near active facilities at the airport may violate operational codes and negatively influence flight safety, which is inadmissible,” the press service said.

Zhuiko said the trade union was not planning a strike, but rather a meeting outside airport terminals, which would not violate the law.

VVSS claimed that the average salary of employees during their first years with VVSS increased by eight percent. In 2011, VVSS also began the process of rating the workplace on safety. Based on its findings, the company will adjust the current plans for improvements, and has allocated 26 million rubles ($820,000) for the improvement of working conditions in 2011, the press service said.

“At the same time, we must understand that these problems have been building up for dozens of years and are related to the old-fashioned infrastructure of the terminal,” VVSS said. “They can’t all be solved at once. The projects focusing on the construction of new terminal complexes, reconstruction of the current airport buildings and the purchase of new equipment are the company’s top priority. Completion of these projects will have a positive effect on labor conditions and passenger comfort.”

Valery Teslenko, chairman of Pulkovo’s Aviation Workers trade union, said that Sotsprof’s plan to hold a meeting was too extreme.

“There is always an opportunity to hold peaceful negotiations instead of involving the workers,” Teslenko told The St. Petersburg Times.

“Especially when they plan to hold the meeting in a very awkward place that can lead to crowds of people,” he added.

Teslenko said that his union had recently negotiated a salary review in April 2012 with VVSS.

He said the main reason for the absence of salaries being indexed to inflation was the global financial crisis. In one of his talks with the airport management on the matter, he was told that they could either provide indexation or retain staff, he said. The airport employs 4,000 people.

“At that time we all understood that it was more important to save jobs,” he said.

Teslenko said the average salary of Pulkovo’s employees is about 31,000 rubles ($980), higher than the figures provided by Sotsprof.

Teslenko said that an independent commission was currently working at Pulkovo to assess workplace safety.

“The main task is not to provide compensation for unsafe conditions, but to make the working environment less dangerous. Incidentally, the construction of new airport facilities will allow that environment to be improved immensely,” he said.

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