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It takes carrot rather than stick to eliminate social parasitism in Russia

April 27, 2015, 18:18 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
A man in court for not being officially employed in the USSR (archive)

A man in court for not being officially employed in the USSR (archive)

© S.Gubsky/Fotokhronika TASS

MOSCOW, April 27. /TASS/. Attempts to compel people to seek and get employment under the threat of criminal punishment, the way it was done in the Soviet Union, have very few chances to succeed, first and foremost because they would run counter to the Russian Constitution and international agreements, Russian experts believe. But that does not mean that the relationship between those who prefer to stay idle and the social funds do not have to be settled somehow.

Of late, there has emerged an idea that all Russians who shirk employment for more than six months in a row at a time when suitable employment opportunities are available to them should face punishment with correctional work for a period of twelve months. The legislative assembly of St. Petersburg is going to submit to the State Duma relevant amendments to federal laws in the near future. Making willful joblessness a criminal offence will require amendments to the Constitution stating that employment is not just a right, but also a duty of each citizen. It is proposed that the measure will not apply to citizens under 18 years of age, people with disabilities, pregnant women, women with children under 14 years of age, clergy and a number of other groups.

"According to official estimates by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Olga Golodets, a total of 48 million men and women are employed in various capacities, another 20 million do hired jobs without proper formalization of their status, and 18 million of able-bodied people are jobless," says the accompanying memo.

Parasitism, in other words, "prolonged existence of an able-bodied person of age on unearned incomes and evasion from socially useful work" was a punishable offence in the Soviet Union. A massive campaign against parasitism began in 1961 to last up to 1991. One of those convicted of parasitism and sentenced to five years of correctional work in 1964 was poet Joseph Brodsky, a future Nobel laureate.

Early this month, on April 2, the president of Russia’s near neighbour Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, signed a decree on the prevention of social parasitism. All those not taking part in financing government spending for more than six months are obliged to pay a special fee of 3.6 million Belarussian roubles (a little more than 12,000 Russian roubles or $240).

The head of a chair at the Labour and Social Relations Academy, Yekaterina Samrailova, is quoted by the daily as saying that the term "parasitism" is utterly out of place in a society where the market of labor is deregulated. "In the Soviet Union there was a balance of labour resources. The state guaranteed the employment of each citizen by artificially creating jobs to maintain 100-percent employment. There is no such thing in Russia these days."

The latest initiative by St. Petersburg’s legislators should rather be called extravagant, because forced labor is prohibited, says a deputy rector of the Russian presidential academy RANEPA, Aleksandr Safonov. "Russia has ratified the international agreements concerning the main social rights of its citizens. All of them give each person a free hand to determine one’s place in life."

"One should also bear in mind that we have many people not involved in the pension system. There are domestic engineers: women who have dedicated themselves to the household and the family. There are jobless, who have long been unable to find employment. In the meantime, they earn a living in a natural economy type of way, for instance, picking mushrooms and wild berries in the woods and selling them at street bazaars. Some live on dividends. As the market of labor develops, these issues will be settled. The law is just senseless."

As far as the Belarussian example is concerned, Safonov believes the presidential decree pursues a totally different aim. It is not about punishment for parasitism. It just requires that people who do not work but use the services of social funds are obliged to pay fees to this social system. The same rules exist in many other countries.

From the standpoint of worldly logic, such a proposal does make sense to an extent, but forced labor is prohibited, the deputy chief of the labour and social policy chair at the RANEPA academy, Aleksandr Shcherbakov, has told TASS.

"At least the social and moral aspect stands out: some people do not work but enjoy the same social benefits as everybody else. The employers make all the social deductions. In the meantime any person, even the one who has not had a job for a single a day, will be getting the social pension."

Shcherbakov believes that the problem may be addressed differently.

"The job must be attractive, and remuneration decent. Then there will be far fewer idlers. It takes a carrot, rather than a stick to achieve," he concluded.

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