Teachers’ Assembly prepares no-confidence vote against education minister
Teachers are expected to deliver a harsh verdict on Education Minister Andrei Fursenko at the 6th congress of the Russian Teachers’ Assembly, which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is to attend.
Putin is expected to address the plenary at the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys on May 31. He has never honored these congresses with his attendance before, nor has Fursenko, for that matter. However, the organization’s status changed after the Teachers’ Assembly joined Putin’s new Popular Front and its leader, Valentina Ivanova, was elected to the Front’s coordination council.
Sources say the congress will feature a major presentation from one of the most respected members of the professional teaching community, full of scourging criticism of the education minister. The speech will be similar to that delivered by Leonid Roshal, the director of Moscow’s institute of children's emergency surgery, known for his high-profile civil initiatives. On April 13, he slammed Healthcare Minister Tatiana Golikova’s reform policy at a medical forum, also attended by the prime minister. The conference room was packed, with people even standing in the aisles.
The teachers’ congress is likely to generate just as much interest. The Assembly’s press office said the Steel Institute’s conference hall seats 1,100 but they expect many more. They did not disclose the speaker’s name. Ivanova said many of the participants will criticize Fursenko. “Schools are inundated with problems, and many participants will be critical,” she said, adding that teachers are used to raising “sore issues.”
Both the president and the prime minister, who have de facto launched their election campaigns, never miss a chance to publicly dissociate themselves from unpopular ministers. Dmitry Medvedev even hinted he was considering firing Fursenko.
Vladimir Putin, whose policy is to kindle people’s nostalgia for the Soviet-era achievements, won’t stop short of reminding the audience that Soviet education was the best in the world. There is little doubt that Fursenko will be blamed for the subsequent decline.
“Putin is actively addressing problems in the education system, which are as numerous and as painful as those in health care,” said political analyst Dmitry Badovsky. “I think Fursenko is in for a difficult discussion.”
On the other hand, no high-profile personnel decisions followed Roshal’s condemnations, and none are likely to ensue this time. Even the blow to Fursenko’s reputation will not be all that great. A source in the Education and Science Ministry said they know what to expect from the teachers’ congress and are not panicking. They are not planning to ask the prime minister to defend them. “The main problem is finding a figure of Roshal’s standing to deliver the speech. There just isn’t anyone of his caliber among education professionals,” the source said.
Russians reject 60-hour working week
Russians are ready to work longer than the current 40-hour week, but want to get more than their basic wage for this additional labor. This is why they have rejected billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s idea. He suggested formalizing a 60-hour working week without paid overtime.
According to a recent survey conducted by the national pollster VTsIOM, 77% of respondents are not ready to work more than 40 hours a week for their basic salary. This is understandable, as nearly half of Russians currently get additional pay for working overtime.
Similarly, 61% of respondents blackballed Prokhorov’s proposal that educational leave should only be granted to working students who were sent to a college or university by their employer. There are few such students in Russia. Most students who take on a job to pay for their education or housing will be unable to combine their studies with employment if this law is approved.
Half of Russians are against giving the employer too much freedom: 51% of the respondents do not think employers should have the right to change the working hours, payment and other conditions of a labor contract because of a crisis or falling demand.
At the same time, the respondents support Prokhorov’s idea that labor contracts be concluded with pensioners and inexperienced young people, provided the contract is signed for a minimum of 12 months. They also think employers should be allowed to extend fixed-term contracts as many times as they need (provided the employee agrees of course), and agree that probationary periods be cancelled for people the employer sends on further education courses.
Last year, Prokhorov suggested amending the labor code to increase the working week by 20 hours to 60 hours and to give employers more freedom to manage their labor force. He said social guarantees and motivation should be tied to labor productivity, which is low in Russia compared to developed states.
Lukashenko blames crisis on media
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko chaired a meeting on the economic crisis late last week during which he demanded a military-style mobilization. He blamed the crisis on external factors, including the “frenzied” Russian media, and demanded Russian journalists be expelled. In response, the Kremlin threatened to revise its stance on giving Belarus a loan. Although Lukashenko advocated improved Belarusian-U.S. relations, U.S. President Barack Obama promised to exert additional pressure on Minsk.
The deepening crisis has prompted a sharp spike in internet activity. People are posting suggestions of where to find fuel, pictures of the latest exorbitant prices in the shops, and sometimes just give vent to their emotions.
Lukashenko said he saw no domestic cause for the deteriorating economy, and that the crisis had been provoked by skyrocketing prices for imported crude oil, natural gas, raw materials, metals and other products.
He said Belarus paid more for natural gas than Germany this year, and that oil was also expensive. “We have Russia, our ‘fraternal state’ to thank for this. When we ratified the Customs Union documents we were promised that customs duties would be dropped, but we’re still paying them. They’re now called ‘corporate bonuses’ or something, but we’re still paying. This places us at a disadvantage with producers in Russia, Kazakhstan and elsewhere,” Lukashenko complained.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the Belarusian leader’s statements were “deeply regrettable.” Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said Minsk needs to privatize assets worth $7.5 billion to get a $3-3.5 billion loan in the next three years. But Lukashenko ruled out large-scale privatization, saying that no major enterprises, including the Minsk and Belarus Automotive Plants and the Belarusian Iron and Steel Works, will be sold off without his approval.
Lukashenko called for self-sufficiency and military-style mobilization. He said the Belarusian Automotive Plant should work 28 hours a day to meet production targets, and that footwear and clothing factories must work 30 and 50 hours per day. He said the State Control Committee, government officials and ministers now had the power to solve consumer market problems, improve labor discipline and ensure law and order.
Lukashenko then called on his people to stop hoarding salt, TV sets and refrigerators. He demanded that the government and governors ensure stock is replenished within seven days and act ruthlessly to keep prices down. He said violators must have their licenses revoked or be imprisoned, and that everything must be resolved by June.
Belarusian political analyst Ales Logvinets said these orders were impossible to fulfill, that the Belarusian economic model had failed, and that the regime’s crackdown on the opposition had left it isolated internationally. This reluctance to free up the economy scares away foreign investors, he added.
The White House said Saturday that Washington will introduce additional sanctions against Belarusian companies if the republic continues to veer away from democracy.
Logvinets said “military Lukashism” could emerge if the crisis worsened, under which all remaining dissenters, the opposition and independent media will be crushed.
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