“Fired for anti-war stance.” How trade unionists help those who oppose the war

Anti-war fund

On April 24, 2022, 53-year-old Muscovite Sergey Melnikov, who worked as the head of the legal department at the Federal State Budgetary Institution “Housing Fund Operations Department” of the Office of the President, stood at the Volokolamskaya metro station in a solo picket calling for an end to the war with Ukraine. The police detained him and took him to the police station, where they issued a protocol on him under Article 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation - "Public actions aimed at discrediting the use of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation."

His boss became aware of Melnikov's detention, and he sent Sergei a WhatsApp message demanding that he write a letter of resignation of his own free will. When he refused to do this, he was blocked by a pass to the workplace, and then invited to the office and handed a notice of dismissal for absenteeism. Melnikov told The Insider that he has been in this position since 2011 and has openly expressed his oppositional views:

“I did not hide the fact that since 2018 I have been going to protest rallies. This caused some dissatisfaction, but no one applied serious sanctions against me. My immediate superior was a retired lieutenant general. I told him before that this war is predatory and fratricidal, and the Russian state has blood on its hands up to the elbows. However, my detention was the last straw for the organization.”

Melnikov turned to the Anti-War Fund. Of course, it was not possible to recover at work, but he was able to ensure that he was not fired for absenteeism, but sent on unpaid leave, after which they said goodbye to him by agreement of the parties, paying severance pay:

“The Fund explained the rules of labor law to me and told me how to properly talk with the authorities, what papers can and cannot be signed, they sent me a file with written instructions. Not only their advice was important to me, but also the fact that they supported me morally. All my close people are in favor of a “special operation”, and before this conversation I felt like an outcast. And then I realized that I'm not the only one."

Despite the fact that Sergei signed the dismissal agreement voluntarily, he still considers the current situation unfair and hopes to challenge it in court. To do this, he independently found a lawyer.

The Anti-War Fund project has been operating in Russia since the end of March. It offers free legal assistance to people who are fired for their political views, forced to participate in activities in support of the "special operation", those who are not paid the legal compensation. The co-founders of the Anti-War Fund were the Anti-War Sick Leave project, chronicling strikes, accidents, fires and attacks on military enlistment offices in Russia, Feminist Anti-War Resistance, and the anarchist group Antijob. The Foundation is ready to provide anyone with legal advice on labor law issues, but their main goal is to motivate a person to challenge his dismissal in court, and in this case they can help him pay for a lawyer.

“The more employers firmly understand that dismissal “out of lawlessness” will inevitably be associated with courts, media coverage and other hassles, the less such situations will arise,” a member of the Anti-War Fund, who asked to be called Fedor, explained to The Insider.

A spokesman for the Anti-War Fund, who calls himself Koldun, says they have received about a hundred applications so far. Most often, they are fired from state institutions - employees of schools, universities and even libraries apply for help.

However, resonant layoffs happen in private companies. In the spring of 2022, the Moscow branch of the French insurance company Europ Assistance tried to fire the doctor Maria Lazebnaya, who asked for relocation. Together with her colleague Daria Sokolova, she wrote a letter in English to the company's head office asking for relocation. However, Daria made a mistake with the addressee, and the letter fell into the public folder, so that all employees saw it. The Moscow authorities immediately disabled the account of both employees - they were not stopped even by the fact that Maria was engaged in operational coordination of treatment for a patient with acute appendicitis who was abroad.

After some time, Daria was allowed to return to her duties, and Maria was able to start working only after 47 days - all this time her account was disabled. However, she soon received a notice that her salary had been cut by a third. In addition, her 16-year-old daughter Katya was fired from Europ Assistance, who worked in a call center and was not officially registered. Maria turned to lawyers and the Anti-War Fund for help:

“They have not been able to fire me yet, because the lawyers and I immediately filed a lawsuit to force me to leave. By doing this, we actually blocked the possibility of firing me, because by doing so, they would only confirm the validity of my claim. We are trying to prove in court that I am being forced to resign and get them to part with me normally - by paying compensation in the amount of several salaries of labor for the dismissal, as well as compensating for moral damages and lawyers' expenses. I no longer want to work in such a company, because my ethical values ​​​​completely do not coincide with it. We lost the trial court, but filed an appeal, and my lawyers continue to be confident that I have a good chance. The "Anti-War Fund" helped with the publicity of my case: they organized two publications in the media, including in the French edition of RFI. They also immediately offered to help me with the payment of lawyers, but I refused this, because I decided that my salary still comes and it would be better if this money goes to someone who needs it more.

The most vulnerable: teachers fired “for immorality”

With the beginning of the war, school and university teachers found themselves in the position of representatives of the most vulnerable to ideological pressure from the authorities and dismissal for the “wrong” position of the professions. Teachers are forced to conduct "lessons of hatred" and take part in actions in support of the Russian army. If a teacher begins to express an anti-war position, he can be fired for committing an "immoral act" - this form is prescribed in the Labor Code specifically for teachers, and it does not have a clear legislative definition.

This is exactly the story that happened to Roman Melnichenko, a teacher from Volgograd University, who has been working there since 2017 and has held two positions at once: a leading researcher and an associate professor. Melnichenko told The Insider that he had a special relationship with what was happening, since his parents live in Ukraine:

“I reposted on my social networks several videos and messages from Ukraine that were already available in open sources. I also posted photos of my parents and my family on social media and expressed bewilderment about how this could have started. At the same time, I have never expressed political views in the educational process, because I believe that the teacher does not have the right to do so. Everyone else sometimes said something political, but I never allowed myself such a thing. It is not difficult to confirm this, since I post all the recordings of my classes in the public domain.

Melnichenko removed all “compromising” posts from his social networks at the request of the university administration and for some time taught classes without any complaints, but then he was summoned to a meeting of the ethics commission. According to Melnichenko, the members of the commission were the same ordinary teachers as himself, and, having learned that their colleague had parents in Ukraine, "began to feel sorry for him." The commission decided to find him guilty, issue a reprimand to him and immediately remove this remark. However, after leaving the office, Melnichenko was immediately detained by three police officers and taken to the police department.

Melnikov says that as a result, an administrative case was opened against him for disseminating deliberately unreliable socially significant information on the VKontakte social network:

“The information that Russian troops were near Kiev in March, and that they fired at the cities, was found to be false, and I was fined 30,000 rubles . In the morning I came to work and found out that I was being fired: as a leading researcher for absenteeism, and as an assistant professor for immoral behavior.

The ex-docent of VolSU spoke about his dismissal on social networks, in response, one of the subscribers sent Melnikov a link to the Anti-War Fund. Melnichenko independently found himself a lawyer who specializes specifically in cases of the dismissal of teachers for immoral misconduct. In the "Anti-War Fund" he was transferred 15 thousand rubles, which was enough to pay most of his fee.

Melnichenko lost in the court of first instance the dispute over the legality of his dismissal to the leadership of the Volga State University, but he is going to appeal this decision up to the European Court.

Pavel Kudyukin explains that many opposition-minded teachers are now in the same position as Melnikov:

“They are forced to either write a statement of their own free will or be fired for ‘committing an immoral act’. Judging by what is now leaking to the press, we are talking about at least dozens of teachers fired for their anti-war position, and the real figure could be much higher. Many refuse to “publish” their dismissal, because they do not want to “set up” the authorities - the deputy dean or the head of the department. By persuading a person to write a statement of his own free will, he is given the illusion that he wanted to leave voluntarily so as not to create problems for his university.

At the same time, Kudyukin emphasizes that he personally knows only a few cases when the courts, in the event of dismissal for an immoral act, took the side of the teacher, and not the university administration. At the same time, as Kudyukin believes, it is possible to find a successful form of resistance even in the conditions of a virtual ban on strikes in educational institutions. In order to reason with the management, a group of teachers can submit applications for resignation of their own free will at the very beginning of the school year or on the eve of a protest. However, for this form of protest to work, it must be supported by a majority of teachers.

According to the chairman of the Uchitel trade union, lawyer Yuri Varlamov, the main weapon of labor protest is a strike, without which it is difficult to achieve significant changes. However, it is difficult to organize it due to existing legal regulations. Varlamov argues that practically nothing of what our media calls strikes is actually not even strikes:

“These are just actions during which employees do something or, on the contrary, refuse to do something. Declaring a strike in accordance with the norms of the current Labor Code, adopted at the beginning of the 2000s, has become so bureaucratic that it has become practically impossible for workers. The announcement of a strike requires the unification of a significant number of workers, from half to two thirds according to different standards, and the execution of a large number of documents. The rules according to which these documents are drawn up are not written anywhere, and they often need to be brought to light from somewhere in the legal depths. For example, withdraw from judicial practice. Not every work team has the opportunity to do this.”

Varlamov explains that the negotiation process and paperwork must always precede the strike:

“Thus, time works in favor of the employer, since he has the opportunity to stop the strike by firing its “instigators”. Courts in cases of strikes in 99% of cases take the side of the employer. It is easy to see that before the adoption of the current Labor Code, the number of strikes per year was measured in the hundreds, and this is a normal figure for a country the size of Russia. Then it dropped to units and even to zero.

Trade Union "Courier": "The surest way to smooth out discontent is to remove people"

The most severe case of pressure on independent trade unions in Russia in recent years has been the repressions against the leader of the Kurier trade union, Kirill Ukraintsev. The Kurier trade union was formed in Moscow in the summer of 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and related restrictions and has become a successful example of organizing workers without employment contracts. Since April 2022, the founder of the trade union, 32-year-old video blogger and left-wing activist Kirill Ukraintsev has been in a pre-trial detention center on charges of repeated violations of the procedure for holding rallies (under the “Dadin” article, 212.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), and he faces up to 5 years in prison.

Arkady Shindyapin, the lawyer for Apology of Protest, explained to Kommersant that Kirill Ukraintsev stopped attending protests out of fear that a criminal case could be opened against him. However, this did not help him, and on April 25, on Kirill's birthday, the security forces came to him with a search, and two days later, the Savelovsky Court of Moscow took him into custody. The formal reason for initiating a criminal case against Ukraintsev was two of his old posts on the VKontakte page with calls for couriers and taxi workers to go to unsanctioned protests.

Maxim Shulgin, the organizing secretary of Kurier, claims that the authorities are well aware that the crisis has begun, and large firms will try to save on employees:

“Employees will express dissatisfaction. The surest way to smooth this discontent is to remove the people who protect these workers. However, the union is not a story about Superman from the movie comics, who confronts the enemies alone, but about solidarity and teamwork. The trade union will continue to function without Kirill, because it is a well-coordinated team. We have activists in various cities and a working structure. And if we have guys who want to unite and defend their rights, then this means that the trade union will live.”

The Kurier trade union is part of the Solidarity Platform , which unites teams of taxi drivers, crane operators and employees of warehouses and pick-up points of the Wildberries online retailer who are dissatisfied with the tariffs. As Meduza wrote in July, Wildberries employees complain that they are forced to strip down to their underwear in order to get through the security post and get to work, as well as numerous fines, overtime, and unfair treatment by their superiors. Shulgin is confident that labor resistance may grow from trade unions of couriers, online store workers and other representatives of professions with precarious employment. Precisely because the authorities do not want to see labor protests and independent trade unions in Russia, with which it is impossible to negotiate, they, as Shulgin is convinced, arrested Kirill Ukraintsev.

American Daily Newspaper

Learn More →