Soviet labor problem: too many jobs
Moscow — ''Comrade pensioners!'' hails a poster in a Moscow employment bureau, ''enterprises and organizations of the city propose various jobs with retention of your pension.''
In a country nagged by labor shortages, the poster is part of an official campaign to persuade more people to stay on the job past retirement age.
The drive began in earnest several years ago with the announcement of more generous pension regulations, and has already widened from 27 to 32 percent the number of Soviet pensioners who continue working. The main provision of the 1979 pension decree was to increase opportunities for retirees to work while continuing to get normal retirement benefits from the state.
Still, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda Jan. 4 called for fresh efforts at facilitating post-retirement work - suggesting, among other things, increased opportunities for the elderly to work part time, or at home.
''We have no shortage of jobs and no shortage of pensioners willing to work, '' said another article, last year, in the trade union newspaper Trud. But it said only a few such pensioners were able to find the less demanding post-retirement jobs they had in mind.
And various media commentaries suggest the 1979 revision of pension guidelines have either been poorly explained to those meant to benefit, or, in some cases, didn't go far enough.
The issue of ''working pensioners'' stands, if anything, to gain in importance in the year ahead. A flagging birthrate is raising the average age of the population in the European part of the USSR, where most of the country's industrial capacity is based. Countrywide, there are now some 25 million people eligible for retirement pension, 8 million of whom are continuing to work.
While some American politicians have argued that the US social security system is too costly, the Soviets have sought to upgrade their pension scheme.
The Soviet retirement system has long been propagandized as a model achievement. Retirment age is 60 years for men, 55 for women. Workers need not pay dues or divert earnings for retirement benefits.
Yet by the late 1970s, the system had begun to look distinctly better on paper than in practice.
In 1978, a frank critique in the Soviet economic journal EKO lamented that while working wages had increased over preceding decades, the minimum Soviet pension payout had remained virtually unchanged.
''In 1956, the . . . peak pension payment exceeded the average wage by more than 50 percent,'' said the article. ''Now, the average wage has outstripped the average pension by 150 percent, and is ahead of the maximum pension.''
Less than a year after the journal's criticism appeared, came the decree on ''incentives to encourage pensioners to take employment in the national economy.''
It expanded the categories of blue-collar work in which pensioners could, by staying on the job, collect both salary and pension. The allowed total is 300 rubles a month - about $430, and well above the average Soviet wage. All other workers were similarly given the right to collect wage and pension - although to a limit of 150 rubles monthly, 30 rubles above the maximum pension for most workers.
In 1981, the authorities slightly raised the minimum monthly pension to 50 rubles - about $70 - by no means lavish, but comfortably ahead of the 1956 level of 30 rubles lamented by the economic journal.
Still, problems persist. Economic managers, the trade-union newspaper suggested last year, sometimes have insufficient incentive to hire pensioners. Moreover, pensioners sometimes lack incentive to work.
''Even if an enterprise does offer part-time work, it is usually in (daily) four-hour shifts. . . . Daily trips on public transport are very hard on elderly people. Working every other day would be much more convenient,'' the newspaper said.
The article adds that even with revised pension guidelines, some retirees are limited to two months' work per year if they are to collect a salary and full pension.
The Jan. 4 Pravda commentary adds that one encouraging facet of the 1979 change - a pension ''bonus'' of up to 30 rubles for pension-age workers who choose to defer receiving pension - has been insufficiently explained.