Russia: Moscow workers confront bosses over Metro safety

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By activists of the Zashchita union, Moscow, translated by Renfrey Clarke

July 21, 2013 – Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- The Metrovagonmash factory has begun producing large numbers of railway wagons with defective braking systems. In June, after three serious incidents on the Moscow Metro, the factory was fined 6 million rubles. The trade union Zashchita (“Defence”) has brought a suit in the prosecutor’s office, anticipates the laying of criminal charges against the factory directors, and is beginning a protest campaign.

The factory management and the workshop chiefs are forcing workers to fit defective components despite breaches of technical standards and serious faults in the parts involved. Plant employees are concerned for the reputation of its products and for the safety of Metro passengers. But workers who refuse to install the parts, demanding that quality standards for the factory’s products be adhered to and normal working conditions observed, are being subjected to reprisals and threatened with the sack by Metrovagonmash chiefs.

Metrovagonmash is a factory in the Moscow region belonging to the Russian firm Transmashkholding and the French corporation Alstom. On June 28, the independent trade union Zashchita, which is active in the enterprise, demanded that the factory’s general director Andrey Andreyev come up with a solution to the problem .

In particular, the management of Workshop No. 17 is forcing workers in the pneumatics section to fit defective parts to the braking systems of Metro cars of the series EZh 714 and EZh 717.5 and 717.6. The workers try to fix the substandard components, and to find parts of suitable quality, but the number of defective parts continues to increase. For example, one of the most important parts, the T-connection No. 5296026-1, suffers from inadequate internal threading to the extent of more than 5 mm. As a consequence, the T-connection cannot be joined closely to the adjacent part, and the assembly cannot be completed properly. The supervisors are forcing the workers to “screw in” part No. 3515.203.06 to the T-connection by hand, despite the lack of threading and the difference in diameters. The result is that the threading can break, destroying the structural integrity of the braking system. Cracks and stresses emerge, making the metro cars potentially dangerous.

Because parts do not fit, workers in the same section are also forced to bash rings onto radiator pipes using sledge-hammers.

As a separate issue, the trade union is addressing the matter of workers being forced to change the character and intensity of their labour in order to fix defective parts by hand. The management refuses to pay compensation for the heavy nature of the work involved. This is despite the fact that after repeated measuring and testing the head of Workshop No. 17, Aleksey Ignatenko, personally confirmed the presence of defective components.

In addition, the workers in Workshop No. 17 are angry at the fact that in July their pay rates were lowered without cause, and the workers in the pneumatic section lost more than a third of their wages. This was despite the fact that wage rates in the workshop were in any case the lowest in the factory for similar types of work.

“For a long time we put up with substandard materials and unpaid labour, while waiting for dialogue with our employers”, explains the chairperson of the factory committee of the Zashchita trade union, Vyacheslav Babochkin. “Our union has raised the matter in literally all the relevant quarters. When we appealed earlier to the general director about the defective parts, it even seemed as though something was starting to be done about it. Charts were posted of the number of rejected parts, and the factory head Yevgeny Pale gave a guarantee that the problem would be solved and that the trade union would get a prompt reply.

“But real action didn’t follow. There were no replies to the union’s demands that quality be ensured. The workers haven’t seen results. Metro cars with defective parts, potentially dangerous to the lives of metro passengers and workers, are still leaving the factory. Meanwhile, the Zashchita activists are under serious threat of losing their jobs. In response to the appeals by the union, the employers immediately started trying to sack dissatisfied workers.”

The reprisals have affected even Babochkin himself. After the workshop chiefs learnt of the appeal by the trade union to the general director, Babochkin was twice cited for breaches of labour discipline. Now attempts are being made to fabricate a case against him in order to bring about his dismissal.

Another trade union activist, the Zashchita workers’ safety officer Aleksey Levashov, was hospitalised as a result of a brawl on the job. The clash with workmates over Levashov’s union activity was instigated by the bosses.

“The reaction by the Metrovagonmash management to Zashchita’s protest against defective materials has been predictable”, notes Svetlana Razina, chairperson of the “Moscow Metropolitan” independent trade union, “since for the factory chiefs, the issue is one of criminal responsibility.

“If the workers in the factory had not raised the matter, the defective parts in the braking systems of the metro cars could have led to large numbers of deaths and injuries.”

The “Moscow Metropolitan” union, like Zashchita, is part of the Confederation of Labour of Russia.

In June three major incidents occurred one after another on the metro. As a result of investigations, Metrovagonmash was fined 6 million rubles, but this has not stopped the factory bosses. The managers have quite literally given Zashchita to understand that they plan to install all the components they have purchased, even though many of these are unfit for use. In addition, the management has refused to compensate its employees for work that is associated with the defective parts, and is not covered by the work agreement.

“We’ve made an application to the prosecutor’s office concerning the defective parts”, explains the Zashchita organiser Vladimir Komov, “and we’re expecting criminal charges to be brought against the factory managers. In line with this, the Zashchita trade union is preparing for protest actions against the Metrovagonmash management over the defective parts and the violations by the employers of the labour rights of the factory workers.”

More information on the situation in the Metrovagonmash plant can be had from the Zashchita press service (tel. +7 915 212 40 07).