Vladimir Babkin: Under Trade Union’s wing

January–February 2010, the interview was taken by Pavel Kuznetsov
Published in corporate Gazprom Magazine Issue 1–2

Mr. Babkin, could you tell us about prerequisites for the establishment of Gazprom’s Interregional Trade Union (ITU).

Before its establishment, the trade organizations in each of the Company’s enterprises tried to defend the interests of workers separately. But even at that time it was clearly necessary to represent the interests of the gas industry workers centrally.

Establishing ITU

In what conditions did the Interregional Trade Union of Gazprom start its activity? What tasks were urgent then?

The model of a vertically integrated company demanded creation of a united trade union body, which would accumulate local issues of employees, organize and analyze them, bring them up for discussion with Gazprom’s administration, and then, jointly, develop a strategy for further actions.

Moreover, social work was to be done with due consideration given to peculiar features of the enterprises, such as geographic locations, historical development, traditions and main activities. It was necessary to make the trade union’s structure meet the Company’s operating principles at most. On February 1, 2000 after serious preparations at the level of the trade union and Gazprom, the Interregional Trade Union of Gazprom was established during the foundation conference.

We had to start our activity in the period when the negative consequences of social and economic reforms were still felt in the country. There were serious problems with salary payment and the social security of the gas industry workers was noticeably weakened. We had two main tasks: to create an institute of social partnership at Gazprom’s level and a trade union organization. The work on the Tariff Agreement has been carried out since the very first days of the ITU. This most important regulatory document for workers and trade union members is aimed at bringing the social partnership to a new level, defining united regulations for social and labor relationship and creating a system of guarantees, privileges and compensations for all Gazprom employees. The requirements for this document were discussed in advance with all trade union organizations. During the Agreement elaboration we received more than 600 suggestions, most of them regarded questions of labor coordination, occupation, salary adequate to labor input, its increase, frequency of payout and necessary privileges for employees. Finally, in November 2000 the document was adopted at the conference of Gazprom employees. On January 1, 2001 the Tariff Agreement entered into force. All its provisions became an obligatory basis for further conclusion of collective agreements by subsidiaries. Fulfilling of obligations under the Agreement was always closely controlled. All amendments and supplements were considered by the representatives of partnership parties and decisions on them were quick and balanced. As a result, the labor conditions significantly improved, the frequency of social conflicts became minimal, the new economic forms and methods of work aimed at high final result were implemented more rapidly. The Interregional Trade Union supervised with special attention the issue of employees salary increase. From 2001 to 2009 the minimal tariff rate was indexed 13 times, that fully compensated the inflation rate.

From 2001 to 2009 the minimal tariff rate was indexed 13 times

From 2001 to 2009 the minimal tariff rate was indexed 13 times

Most important document

After the Tariff Agreement expiry, the General Collective Agreement of Gazprom and its subsidiaries was adopted for a period from 2004 to 2006. This document appeared as a result of an accurate preliminary work. In March 2003 at the traditional joint meeting of the Joint Stock Company’s Management Committee and the Presidium of the Gazprom Interregional Trade Union Council it was decided to elaborate a draft General Collective Agreement. The initial version was sent for discussion to all subsidiaries, which had expressed the desire to become members of the Agreement. The Commission for social and labor disputes settlement received about 500 suggestions from 27 subsidiaries. The General Collective Agreement significantly improved the protection of needy gas workers’ families, young employees and employees with children, amplified social privileges for long-service employees and non-working pensioners. Improving of gas workers’ social and economic protection became possible, first of all, due to the special course of Gazprom’s social policy aimed at guaranteeing good conditions of employees’ labor and life. Annually, Gazprom actively participates in the projects targeted at creation of new workplaces, help for needy and poor people, servicemen, veterans and disabled veterans of the Great Patriotic War, carries out programs of social support for the Far North peoples, investing in construction of production and social infrastructure facilities in Russian regions. The Company’s social policy is aimed at culture, sport, education and science development, while the ITU of Gazprom contributes to it whenever possible.

What is the current progress with legal protection of Gazprom employees?

All conditions for legal protection are created. In this work we rely on the labor legislation, the General Collective Agreement and the collective agreements of subsidiary companies.

Trade union patronage

At present, eight Human Rights Inspectors are employed by our structural organizations and more than 260 persons were made in charge for legal protection implementation. Back in April 2001 the ITU Council created a Legal Committee to hold sessions twice a year and discuss the results of the previous period, elaborate the future tactics. One of the main tasks of the Committee’s work was to prepare and implement suggestions on the legislation improvement, both federal and regional, and exert the trade union’s control of compliance with labor legislation as well.

The ITU actively discusses draft versions of the federal laws and other regulatory acts, documents of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia and the Russian Trade Union Council, prepares suggestions and comments on them. It is an important part of the legal work, since, after all, it affects the interests of our employees. Particularly, we succeeded in making adjustments in the draft Law on Commercial Confidentiality, wherein the term “commercial confidentiality” was relieved of the information about the number and composition of employees, the compensation plan, the labor conditions and safety, the employer’s deferred salary payments and other social benefits. Other information, being of commercial confidentiality, but necessary for trade unions to conduct collective negotiations, is available in accordance with the labor legislation of the Russian Federation.

We could essentially change provisions of the government’s version of the Law on Gatherings, Protests, Demonstrations, Marches and Picketing. A ban on marches, demonstrations, picketing and gatherings near state authorities’ buildings was excluded. In 2001 much attention was paid to the work on the draft Russian Labor Code. Consolidated actions of the trade union resulted in elaboration of a coordinated draft version of the Labor Code. One more way of the legal protection for trade union members appeared – Human Right Inspectors responsible for legal protection and other representatives of the trade unions will participate in solving labor disputes.

One of the ITU work priorities is a constant enhancement of the trade union’s role in creating secure labor conditions

One of the ITU work priorities is a constant enhancement of the trade union’s role in creating secure labor conditions

Every day, many of Gazprom’s employees have to face dangerous factors of the operating activities. What efforts does your organization put to increase the level of labor safety?

In gas production, transportation, storage and processing there are life and health threatening factors, that is why one of the Gazprom ITU work priorities is constant enhancement of the trade union’s role in creating secure labor conditions, preventing accidents and protecting legal interests of aggrieved employees. In order to improve labor safety control and prevention activities, it was recommended to the trade union organizations to examine the possibility of introducing a technical inspector’s position in trade union organizations. Taking into consideration the importance of the task, so far, 11 technical labor inspectors are carrying out control over labor conditions and safety. To increase labor safety, trade union committees jointly with employers and with direct involvement of the Gazprom ITU worked to create the institute of designated persons and commissions for labor safety. They are the main ITU helpers in creating secure labor conditions and reducing occupational injuries, since there are thousands of persons directly participating in the production process. Due to the geographical disunity, there is a schedule of trainings for branch offices. The classes take place in special educational establishments, which have permits for training and education. The Gazprom ITU annually holds the contests for the Best Commissioner for Labor Safety. The winners are rewarded with merit certificates and cash bonuses. The Interregional Trade Union is planning to work further on occupational risks reduction to the extent modern science and technology allow.

In your speeches you often mention the necessity of implementing innovative forms of work, such as social audit. What can it give to Gazprom?

Obviously, the social component of modern enterprises is increasingly affecting their competitiveness. Social audit is a way of comprehensive assessment of the state of relations at various levels, enabling to analyze the threat of social climate deterioration, to understand the potential for human resources development. Moreover, the results of social audit are a substantive basis for dialogue of the parties involved in social partnership. I believe that in the foreseeable future the social audit will become a regular practice in the trade union’s work.

There are many creative people among Gazprom’s employees. How does the Interregional Trade Union support them?

Along with organizing the Company’s social policy together with the Gazprom management during all these years, the ITU was creating an institute of corporate culture, or, in other words an effective method of supporting a variety of talents of our employees and their creative initiatives.

Harmonious system consisting of festivals, contests, Spartakiada Games, tournaments and charity events unites employees, giving a possibility for all-round development of each gas worker as an individual

Harmonious system consisting of festivals, contests, Spartakiada Games, tournaments and charity events unites employees, giving a possibility for all-round development of each gas worker as an individual

Talents support

Nowadays, this harmonious system consisting of festivals, contests, Spartakiada Games, tournaments and charity events brings significant fruits, uniting employees and giving a possibility for all-round development of each gas worker as an individual. I would like to highlight our corporate Fakel Festival, in which amateur artistic teams and performers take part. The idea of such a festival came directly from the employees and trade unions, and was supported by the Company's management. According to the jury and guests’ common view of past festivals, Gazprom is the only company in the country, which organized such a bright and large-scale event that has become notable in the cultural life of the Russian Federation. Everybody notices a high level of the zonal rounds and the final stage of the festival, a variety of genres represented in competitive programs and caring attitude of the participants to the cultural heritage of Russia. Besides, with the participation of the Interregional Trade Union, a creative association of writers in the gas industry was established, corporate literature and photo contests are held, the annual Literaturny Fakel Almanac is published.

Amateur artistic teams and performers take part in corporate Fakel Festival

Amateur artistic teams and performers take part in corporate Fakel Festival

In November 2009 the Gazprom headquarters hosted a conference of the Company’s employees to sign the General Collective Agreement for 2010–2012. How do you assess the results of Gazprom’s “social constitution” preparation for the next three years?

More than 200 suggestions and comments were received on the draft General Collective Agreement of Gazprom. They mainly edit or clarify the wordings. On November 20 the document was approved unanimously. Despite the impact of the global financial crisis, the draft version contains basic benefits, guarantees and compensations of the previous General Collective Agreements.

Mr. Babkin, what conclusions can you make according to the ten-year work of the Gazprom ITU?

A powerful and efficient organization, able to solve the most complicated tasks, has been created. Persevering and diligent collaboration of the Interregional Trade Union with Gazprom in the form of social partnership is successfully overcoming the socioeconomic issues of gas workers.

The ITU has put much effort to create and implement a technology for preparation, discussion by employees and approval of collective agreements with due account of all legislative and corporate requirements assuring the observation of each employee’s rights. All employees feel the protection of the General Collective Agreement providing the possibility to reach a reasonable congruence of employees and employers’ interests in social partnership. Moreover, the employees gained more relevant guarantees and benefits in comparison with the applicable laws and legal acts. In ten years the Interregional Trade Union became a dignified example of social dialoging in vertically integrated companies.