Memorandum submitted by Labour and Society
1. LSI works with the British and International
trade union movements in developing countries and countries in
transition. Using the expertise in trade union education developed
in the UK over the last twenty years, our work with unions in
these countries includes helping unions:
to campaign for basic human rightsespecially
core labour standards;
to develop their own trade union
education programmes, including tutor training and materials development;
to negotiate and campaign for improvements
in health and safety; and
to participate in civil society and
democratic processes and institutions.
2. As our name implies, LSI seeks to link
the trade union movement with other parts of civil society and
we encourage a wider trade union agenda.
3. Our main partners are international trade
secretariats (ITSs) which link together unions by industry. These
are usually based in Geneva or Brussels.
4. LSI has been working in Transcaucasus
and Central Asia since 1995, when we ran project workshops in
Almaty and Baku with the International Federation of Chemical
Energy Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM). We have since
been the main implementing partner for the ICEM in a Tacis Democracy
Project Trade Unions in TransitionCentral Asia and the
Caucasus. The project provided assistance in trade union education
through tutor training and materials development. A trade union
education manual, Challenges for Trade Unions in Transition, was
written for the project. Project activities were in Azerbaijan,
Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.
5. LSI is currently involved, as a sub-contractor,
in another Tacis project on The Social Consequences of Privatisation
and Restructuring in Kazakhstan. For that project, we have carried
out research, written two manuals, and run courses. We are assisting
in the establishment of a resource centre for Social partnership
in Akmola. 
6. The main point we wish to make to the
committee is that the trade union movement is an important player
in at least some of the republics. Their contribution towards
building pluralistic, open societies should be encouraged.
7. In Central Asia and the Transcaucasian
republics, trade unions are the only mass institutions of the
Soviet period to have survived. In some states they are unreformedArmenia
and Turkmenistan for example. But in others, such as Kazakstan,
they are civil society and have a widely accepted legitimacy.
They are the main lobby for veterans, pensioners, the disabled,
the unemployed. In the more open statesrecognising this
is a relative term in the regionthey call for social and
economic policies which would protect the most vulnerable groups.
They are the lobby for the poor.
8. The main issue facing unions was summed
up very well by the UK ambassador in Baku:
The size of the economic cake will certainly
get bigger, but how that cake is divided is also important. We
accept as inevitable that there will be some increase in inequality
compared with Soviet days. What is hard to accept is the hijacking
of assets and wealth by a few people while a large part of the
country goes empty handed. 
Trade unions in some countries in the region
have become the focus for concern over inequality and corruption.
In Kazakhstan, unions are in conflict with government over its
failures in policy for vulnerable groups. They have participated
in demonstrations in Almaty. But at the same time, unions have
tried to avoid their position being seen as overtly hostile towards
9. In Azerbaijan, union leaders have tended
to support President Aliyev, but more for the reason that he has
brought stability than because they like his economic and social
policies. But it is important to emphasis that individual union
members can and do openly support other parties.
10. On the dissolution of the USSR, successor
republics joined the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and
could chose which ILO conventions to ratify. There is a wide variation
between Kazakhstan, which has ratified only two, and Azerbaijan
which has ratified 50.
11. The problems for unions in Transcaucasus
and Central Asia are similar to those in other parts of the former
Soviet Union. Unions have lost their role in the old system of
administering welfare and safety and struggle to find a new one,
in a context of drastic economic free fall. The demolition of
the cradle to the grave welfare system, the months of unpaid wages,
the unemploymentunions have grappled with problems at the
same time as both their ideology and structural underpinnings
have been swept away.
12. Unions have prioritised preserving the
"social sphere" as enterprises are privatised. Western
consultants working for the EBRD, World Bank etc have consistently
advised that enterprises give up their kindergartens, medical
facilities etc before they are privatised.
13. The result has been a very substantial
shift away from socialised care to individualised carewhich
in practise has meant womens' unpaid labour has increased.
14. Central Asian unions have been cut off
from Moscow, where the centralised All Union Council of Trade
Unions had a number of specialised institutes which provided support.
Unions own resource base is extremely poor. They have had to downsize
and salaries are very low.
15. The western based international trade
union movement initially focussed more on the Russian Federation
and Central Europe, with the exception of the International Federation
of Chemical Energy Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) a Brussels
based international trade secretariat.
16. The ICEM welcomed unions from the former
Soviet Union to join it, but only as "transitional members"
until they could establish their democratic credentials and independence.
Both government and managerial control had to be removed from
the unions' constitutions and in practise. They were also obliged
to cut all links with the old Soviet era international trade union
structures which have been kept alive with funding from Libya
and Syria. The ICEM has now accepted a number of transitional
unions from the region into full membership, which is an indication
of the fact that these unions really have changed.
17. In Azerbaijan, more than half of the
unions in the national confederation
are affiliates of the ICEM and they have clearly had an influence
on it. The Azerbaijan trade union confederation has developed
links with the ICFTU. It has promoted a trade union bank (not
dissimilar to Unity Trust, the UK's union based bank). Unions
have been directly involved in welfare work for the internal refugees
and also sought to establish a network of CAB style advice centres.
18. The "transitional" affiliates
have been desperate for help in understanding how to deal with
western multinationals, particularly in the energy sector, and
how to set up new training systems. British trade union education
methods and expertise, applied appropriately and sensitively,
have been well received in the three countries where we have worked.
19. One development worth noting is the
growth of enterprise based structures, where the enterprise has
been bought out by foreign companies. This seems to be marked
20. Foreign owners pay their workers on
time and morale is better. Without cutting their links with their
old unions, in a number of instances de facto new union structures
have developed. For example, the Committee of the Union at Philip
Morris/Almaty Tobacco Company, Kazakhstan, now relates directly
to the Federation of unions, not the Agricultural Workers Unions
(AGRO PROM) which they were in before.
21. Unions face a range of issues where
they need assistance:
Trade union rights. The multinationals
in Azerbaijan, for example, do not recognise the Oil and Gas Workers
Union. This is clearly with government approval or connivance.
Collective bargaining. As previous
ways of determining wages and benefitsministerial regulationhave
disappeared, unions need to develop collective bargaining skills.
Sustaining the social safety net;
unions are still trying to do this, though usually excluded from
all policy discussions by their governments and multilateral and
Trying to get an input into the reform
processprivatisation, restructuringas with the previous
point, there is a democratic deficit.
Problems of women workers. The "Communism
is over, so women can go back to the home" attitude has emerged
among employers and governments. The formal equality of the old
USSR has been abandoned. Women have been the first to be made
Occupational safety health and the
environment. Where industry is functioning, it is still operating
well below international standards.
Isolation. The region is really cut
off. Knowledge of trends and issues elsewhere is very low.
Restructuring. The national centres
have in some cases, such as the Kazaks, recognised the need to
restructure, but admit the need for outside help to do so.
22. We would ask the committee to consider
The UK should recognise the role
that trade unions could play in helping in the development of
robust civil societies and democracy in the region.
Trade unions should receive assistance
in the form of training and advice to help them adapt to the very
rapid changes in the region.
The UK should try to use its influence
within multilateral agencies to ensure that there is full involvement
of trade unions, as social partners, in social planning and economic
1 The manuals were on Collective Bargaining with an
emphasis on Protecting the Social Sphere and on Tripartism and
Social Partnership. Back
Address by HE Mr Roger Thomas at the Caspian Infrastructure Exhibition
and Conference, Baku 21-24 October 1997. Back
The equivalent of the TUC. Back