November 29, 2019

The Labor Laws of Soviet Russia

Containing a Supplement, "The Protection of Labor in Soviet Russia," by S. Kaplun of the Commissariat of Labor


(Summary by the Russian Soviet Government Bureau in the United States) 

THE fundamental principle underlying the labor laws of Soviet Russia is that society owes everybody a living. The community is like one family, every member of which is supported out of the family income. The labor laws speaks of "citizens." In practice, however, there is no difference between citizens and aliens because any person may become a citizen by a mere declaration of intention to become one. 

It goes without saying that since everyone is entitled to a seat at the community table, every able-bodied person is required to contribute his or her share towards the work which is necessary to provide the community with the means for the sup-port of its members. This is described as "compulsory labor." 

The obligation to work for the community begins with the age of sixteen and terminates at the age of fifty. Old persons are supported by the community; likewise all persons who are permanent I y or temporarily incapacitated for work. This includes women for a period of eight weeks before and eight weeks after confinement. School children are required to take manual training at school.

The community undertakes to provide every person with work. If no work can be found for any able-bodied person, he or she is entitled to a full wage or salary for the whole time of his or her involuntary idleness.

As far as practicable, every worker must be as-signed to work at his trade or profession, if he has any, and at his usual place of residence. If there is no opening in a person's chosen field of work, he may be assigned to and must accept another class of work. If, however, the work is of a lower grade, the worker is nevertheless entitled to his regular compensation which he would receive if employed at his own trade or profession. If no employment can be found for a worker within the district where he resides, he may be assigned to work in another district. 

Night work is prohibited for all persons under the age of eighteen, and for women of all ages. The same classes are excluded from all kinds of employment which are considered "especially hard or dangerous.:, 

In nationalized industries the terms of employment are regulated by rules framed by the labor organizations, subject to the approval of the People's Commissariat of Labor, which corresponds to the Department of Labor of the United States. In establishments operated by private capital the terms of employment are regulated by rules agreed upon between the owners or directors of the establishments and the labor unions, likewise subject to approval by the People's Commissariat of Labor. 

If no agreement can be reached between capital and labor the terms of employment are drawn up by the trade unions and submitted for approval to the People's Commissariat of Labor. This provision of the Soviet labor laws is theoretically tantamount to compulsory arbitration. It must be borne in mind, however, that the People's Commissariat of Labor is a Soviet institution, in the election of which labor has a dominating vote. 

A normal working day must not exceed eight hours for day work and seven hours for night work. The normal working day for persons under eighteen years of age must not exceed six hours. In especially hard and dangerous occupations the normal day must likewise not exceed six hours. If the character of the work is such that it cannot be dropped at the end of a normal working day, two or more labor shifts must be engaged. Over-time is permitted only in emergencies. Where the emergency would not endanger human life or involve interruption in water supply, lighting, sewer-age, or transportation, overtime work is permitted only with the consent of the labor unions whose membership is affected. No persons under eighteen years of age, nor any women are permitted to work overtime. In no case may overtime exceed four hours in the course of two consecutive weeks, nor may overtime work be resorted to more than on fifty days during the year. The guiding idea is that whenever it may be foreseen that the work of any establishment cannot be completed with the regular force within a normal working day, additional shifts of workers must be provided for. 

Every worker is entitled to a vacation with pay of two weeks in every six months. 

In order to avoid as far as possible disputes be-tween individual wage earners and the employers of labor over the performance of the term of employment, every worker is provided with a "labor booklet," in which must be entered the terms of his employment, the quantity of work performed, the amount of wages received by him, and all other particulars relating to his work and payment. 

The right to "hire and fire" is not left to the discretion of the employer. Before any person is permanently engaged he+must undergo a probation period of one week; in nationalized establishments the probation period is two weeks for unskilled labor and one month for skilled labor. If any employee is rejected after probation he may appeal to his union. If his union considers his com-plaint justified it may enter into negotiations with his employer. Should negotiations fail the matter may be submitted to the local office of the Commissariat of Labor, which may order the appointment of the complainant to a permanent position or may dismiss his complaint. After a person has been appointed to a permanent position he may be dis-charged for unfitness only with the consent of his labor union. Both the employer and the employee may appeal the matter to the local and the district office of the Commissariat of Labor, respectively. The decision of the district office is final. 

Every wage earner is required to turn out the standard output fixed for his class and grade of work by the valuation committee of his labor union, subject to the approval of the Commissariat of Labor, representing the interests of labor, and the Council of National Economy, representing the interests of national industry. A wage earner, who falls below the standard may be demoted by decision of the valuation committee of his union, but he may appeal from that decision to the local and the district office of the Commissariat of Labor. The decision of the district office is final. In case of negligence or bad faith a wage earner may be discharged without notice, subject to the agreement of his labor union. 

A worker may be discharged in case of a shut-down of the establishment or of suspension of work for more than a month or in case of cancellation of special orders. The discharge of a worker for these reasons is likewise appealable to the local and district offices of the Commissariat of Labor. In every case the worker is entitled to two weeks' notice of the proposed discharge. 

On the other hand, the worker is not at liberty to quit his job at pleasure. He must tender his resignation, which must be passed upon by the shop committee. If the shop committee, after a hearing, declines to accept the resignation, the wage earner must remain at work, but he may appeal to his trade union, whose decision is final. A wage earner who disobeys these rules is barred from other employment for one week and forfeits his unemployment benefit for that period. These rules do not apply, however, to personal service and to temporary employment where the worker is at liberty to quit at pleasure. 

In order to carry into effect the principles which have been summarized in the preceding paragraphs, suitable machinery has been provided by the labor code. Every wage earner must enroll with some labor organization, whereupon he is assigned by the valuation committee of his union to a certain trade and class. This is in principle a continuation and extension of the guild system, which existed under the old laws of the Russian Empire. 

A system of labor inspection has been provided for under the jurisdiction of the People's Commissariat of Labor. Labor inspectors are elected by the central bodies of the trade unions. The powers of the labor inspectors are very wide. They may enter at any time of the day or night every industrial establishment, as well as the lodgings provided by the employers for their workers. They may adopt special rules for the removal of conditions endangering the life and health of employees. They may require the production by the management of all the books and records of the establishment, and they may prosecute all persons violating the provisions of the labor code.


Translated from the official text published in Moscow.

I. The Code of Labor Laws shall take effect from the moment of its publication in the Compilation of Laws and Regulations of the Workmen's and Peasants' Government. This Code must be extensively circulated among the working class of the country by all the local organs of the Soviet Government and be posted in a conspicuous place in all Soviet Institutions. 

II. The regulations of the Code of Labor Laws shall apply to all persons receiving remuneration for their work and shall be obligatory for all enterprises, institutions and establishments (Soviet, public, private and domestic), as well as for all private employers exploiting labor. 

III. All existing regulations of a general character and those hereafter to be issued in relation to labor ( orders of individual establishments, instructions, rules of internal management, etc.), as well as individual contracts and agreements, shall be valid only in so far as they do not conflict with this Code. 

IV. All labor agreements previously entered into, as well as all those which will be entered into in the future, in so far as they contradict the regulations of this Code shall not be considered valid or obligatory, either for the employees or for the employers. 

V. In enterprises and establishments where the work is carried on in the form of organized cooperation (Section 6, Division (a) of the present Labor Code) the wage earners must be allowed the widest possible self-government under the supervision of the Central Soviet authorities. On this basis alone can the working masses be successfully educated in the spirit of socialist and communal government. 

VI. The labor conditions in the communal enterprises organized as well as supported by the Soviet institutions (agricultural and other communes) are regulated by special rules of the All­ Russian Central Executive Committee and of the Council of People's Commissars, and by instructions of the People's Commissariats of Agriculture and Labor. 

The labor conditions of farmers on land assigned them for cultivation are regulated by the Code of Rural Laws. 

The labor conditions of independent artisans are regulated by special rules of the Commissariat of Labor.


On Compulsory Labor 

1. All citizens of the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic, with the exceptions stated in sections 2 and 3, shall be subject to compulsory labor. 

2. The following persons shall be exempt from compulsory labor: 

(a) Persons under 16 years of age; 

(b) All persons over 50 years; 

(c) Persons who have become incapacitated by in­ jury or illness. 

3. Temporarily exempt from compulsory labor are: 

(a) Persons who are temporarily incapacitated owing to illness or injury, for a period necessary for their recovery; 

(b) Women, for a period of 8 weeks before and 8 weeks after confinement. 

4. All students shall be subject to compulsory labor at the schools. 

5. The fact of permanent or temporary disability shall be certified after a medical examination by the Bureau of Medical Survey in the city, district or province, by the accident insurance office or its agencies, according to the place of residence of the person whose disability is to be certified. 

Note I. Rules for the examination of disabled workmen are appended hereto (page 36). 

Note II. Persons subject to compulsory labor but not engaged in useful public work may be summoned by the local Soviets for the execution of public work, on conditions determined by the local Departments of Labor in agreement with the local Councils of trade unions. 

6. Labor may be performed in the form of­ 

(a) Organized cooperation; 

(b) Individual personal services; 

(c) Individual special jobs. 

7. Labor conditions in Government (Soviet) establishments shall be regulated by scale rules approved by the Central Soviet authorities through the People's Commissariat of Labor. 

8. Labor conditions in all establishments (Soviet, nationalized, public and private) shall be regulated by scale rules drafted by the trade unions, in agreement with the director s or owners of establishments and enterprises, and approved by the People's Commissariat of Labor. 

Note. In cases where it is impossible to arrive at an 

understanding with the directors or owners of establishments or enterprises, the scale rules shall be drawn up by the trade unions and submitted for approval to the People's Commissariat of Labor. 

9. Labor in the form of individual personal service or in the form of individual special jobs shall be regulated by scale rules drafted by the respective trade unions and approved by the People's Commissariat of Labor.


The Right to Work