Soviet Republics Look for Ways To Ease Soaring Unemployment
NATALIA IVANOVA, a Soviet technical engineer at one of Moscow's huge military industrial complexes, says she will soon be in the unemployment line.She spends her evenings at the Moscow Employment Center and Labor Exchange, poring over lists of thousands of job opportunities. Ms. Ivanova is still working, but on Sept. 1, she was given two-months notice of her termination. The massive Soviet defense apparatus, employing millions of workers across the country, will be dramatically downsized over the next several years, says First Deputy Defense Minister Pavel Grachevas. Ivanova is among its first casualties. She says she lacks the political connections necessary to secure a new job in her field. And because she is of childbearing age, employers would prefer an "unburdened man to do the job." Up to 25,000 people registered at the unemployment office during July and August, according to General Manager Igor Zaslavsky. The center opened July 1. Between 4 million and 5 million of Moscow's 9-million-plus residents work, but some 20 percent of that number will be jobless as economic reforms take hold, government cuts back staff, and industries close inefficient operations, he says. Five hundred new unemployed arrive at the office each day. Unemployment will be most severe in the country's industrial centers, including Moscow, St. Petersburg, and the Ural mountains, Mr. Zaslavsky says. In Siberia's Tyumen region, where oil is virtually the only industry, production is sliding and workers are being laid off. To prevent worse unemployment in the mostly rural Central Asian republics and in Transcaucasia, sweeping land reform is necessary, he says. "Everyone needs a plot of land to work to support a family." "For 60 years, we had no unemployment offices," he says. "During [Joseph] Stalin's reign of terror, people were forced to work. So everyone had a job, and Stalin declared there was no unemployment." Zaslavsky, who proudly calls himself a communist, says the work ethic is still integral to the Soviet Constitution. "Two articles, the right to work and the obligation to work, are in the Constitution." But Ivanova and other women who represent almost 80 percent of the country's unemployed, would like to see constitutional rights that prevent job discrimination against women. Moscow's Labor Exchange Information Bank lists 70,000 jobs for drivers, metal workers, stone-masons, and carpenters. A graduate of Moscow's Institute of Radio Electronics and Automation, Ivanova typifies the growing unemployed population in this city and around the country: She is well-educated, but will require retraining if she is to find a new job. "It is not at all simple to find suitable work for these trained people," says Zaslavsky. "There always [used to be] specialists with a diploma, just in case they were needed. But now they don't keep unnecessary workers any longer simply for the sake of full employment." Employers who can now choose from a large pool of job-seekers, won't take women, says Nadezhda Semenovyh, a job placement specialist at the center. "They prefer men and those who are already capable of doing the work. Retraining new workers costs time and money," she says. "But men alone cannot support the family. Because of price hikes and worsening economic conditions, it's essential for women to work." The Moscow unemployment office is anxious to encourage small enterprises to create new jobs, says Zaslavsky's deputy, Boris Andreev. But according to the Soviet business weekly, Commersant, many obstacles stand in the way. Moscow businessmen are in an uproar over Russian President Boris Yeltsin's Aug. 28 decree granting broad powers to Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov, including the right to limit prices and to impose additional taxes, fines, and duties on independent enterprises. Those hiding profits and evading taxes will be more vigorously pursued, according to Commersant. "The Moscow Convention of Businessmen threatens to turn the capit al into an economic desert by moving its firms to other cities," the paper reports. Zaslavsky's office doles out unemployment money to the jobless three months after they have lost their jobs. Former employers are responsible for paying three months' wages after layoffs. Twelve months of benefits cover only a portion of lost earnings. If the state takes dramatic measures to free up the economy, "unemployment will be massive," Zaslavsky warns. The state has neither the resources, the infrastructure, nor the political strength to withstand massive joblessness, he says. "It would have been better to go faster [to a market economy] two years ago, when the country's economic, political, and ethnic problems were not so pronounced. But now, such fast action will only lead to chaos." And the last thing this fragile Soviet society needs, he adds "is a political upheaval." International aid is expected to help the Soviets create a strong social safety net to avert a national crisis. A recent assessment of the Soviet economy by the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and others, which will be the blueprint for that assistance, says, "Over a longer period, arrangements should be made to finance the unemployment compensation program through contributions from both employers and employees."