Thursday, December 07, 2006

Restoration Problems in Chechnya

Via Prague Watchdog (my tr.):

Unscrupulous bosses robbing construction workers in Grozny

By Umalt Chadayev

GROZNY, Chechnya (December 7 2006) - Local residents involved in restoration work in the Chechen capital are complaining that payment of earnings for work they have done is being delayed, and that often the amount of the pay is much lower than promised.

Large-scale restoration work on buildings is at present continuing in Grozny. In the city’s central section alone, 87 municipal houses are being restored. Thousands of people have been brought in to do the repair of the buildings, and some even arrive from remote districts of the republic in the hope of earning just a little extra money.

But the vast majority of these people, who perform the heavy work of clearing obstructions and collecting rubbish from multi-storey buildings, and then repairing them, become the victims of swindlers among the foremen, site managers and other bosses. Many are not paid the money due to them, sometimes for weeks, and often for months, and frequently the amounts of the payments are much lower than those that there promised when they were hired for the job.

“Two months ago I was hired at a construction site in one of Grozny’s micro-districts [mikrorayony]. The team-leader promised us we would earn not less than 12,000-13,000 a month, that after the repairs on that building were completed (it was a multi-storey apartment block) we would get another building to repair, and so on,” says Sakhib Murdalov, a resident of the village of Gikalo in Grozny district. “For a week we worked like slaves, removing the obstructions in this half-wrecked house, dragging the rubbish outside, cleaning the stairs and so on.”.

“However, when the heaviest part of the work was done, and we were supposed to start plastering walls and carrying out minor repairs in the apartments, the leader suddenly told us that our work team (there were six of us in it) was being disbanded for an indeterminate period. We were told that the work was being suspended, and that we would be informed when it was going to be resumed again,” he says.

“They promised us we’d be paid in the course of the week for the work we’d already done. I went to collect it, and it was only about three thousand rubles, for more than a month’s work! First they said the documents were being prepared, then they told us the estimates had not yet been received, then they said that the money hadn’t arrived yet… I realized that we were just being ‘fleeced’. They had made us do the dirtiest and hardest part of the work, and then got their close relatives and friends together and gave the site to them. For the plastering, painting, whitewashing and so forth. Such things happen here quite a lot,” Murdalov says.

In the opinion of 48-year-old Ilyas, a former law enforcement official, unscrupulous businessmen use these methods in order to make large sums of capital. “Imagine that you have, say, 50 men working on your site. Each man is promised a minimum payment of 10,000 rubles. That adds up to half a million. If the payments are delayed for a couple of months while the money is invested somewhere, it’s possible to make a very good profit. Which is what all these team-leaders, foremen, site managers and so on are doing,” he said.

“The whole trouble is that the people who are being swindled simply don’t have anywhere else to turn,” Ilyas thinks. “The republic has an enormous surplus of labour. The shortage of jobs is just huge. As far as I know, something like 80 per cent of the labour force don’t have any work. So people grasp at any chance to get themselves hired somewhere. They’re prepared to wait weeks and months before getting their wages, and the swindlers take advantage of this. Those who don’t co-operate or are too insistent can be sacked without any problem. It’s not permanent work, after all, it’s temporary, and no one usually signs any agreements or documents relating to the hiring as a rule,” says Ilyas.

On several occasions construction workers who have been cheated have held pickets and protest rallies in Grozny, demanding payment of the money that is owed to them. Yet the ongoing problem has so far not been resolved. Swindlers continue to rob people, avoiding all responsibility for their actions.

Translated by David McDuff.

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