A Russian dockers’ trade union leader is starting a three-and-a-half year jail sentence – which is the port management’s revenge for workers’ action over pay and conditions, his union says.
Leonid Tikhonov, chair of the Dockers Union of Russia at Vostochny Port in the Russian Far East, was
on 15 December found guilty in court of embezzlement. The union says the charges are baseless and its members have testified that nothing was embezzled.
Port management brought the charges, in breach of correct legal procedure, in June 2012 – right after port workers launched a campaign against low pay and casualisation.
Vostochny Port, a giant container terminal near Nakhodka at the end of the Trans Siberian Railway, is on Russia’s increasingly important trade route to the Far East. Workers making their presence felt there will surely have pushed at a weak spot in capital’s armour.
On 15 December 2014, Nakhodka City Court handed down a guilty verdict against Leonid Tikhonov, chair of the Dockers’ Union of Russia (DUR) local branch at Vostochny Port joint stock company in the Russian Far East. The trade union leader was
sentenced to three years and six months in a medium security prison. Moreover, in future Tikhonov will be barred from engaging in trade union activities for three years.
Tikhonov was accused of embezzlement. But the trade union is certain the prosecution and harsh sentence were port management’s revenge against Tikhonov and the entire local for acting too aggressively to prevent them from capitalizing on the deteriorating labor conditions of dockworkers.
The case has been much discussed in the media. But we can draw our own conclusion about who is in the right here. We only have to examine the facts in the case.
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Criminal charges against Tikhonov were filed on 22 June 2012. He was accused of misappropriating 359,571 rubles (approx. 8600 euros at the time) from Vostochny Port JSC, money allocated to the trade union for purchasing New Year’s gifts. None other than Anatoly Lazarev, managing director of Vostochny Port JSC, filed the charges against Tikhonov.
However, neither the trade union committee nor trade union members employed at Vostochny Port complained about the allegedly misappropriated funds. On the contrary, they came to the defense of their chair.
The trade union submitted to the court a written decision by the Vostochny Port JSC trade union committee to allocate funds as New Year’s gifts in the amount of five hundred rubles per member and the subsequent transfer of the money to shop stewards for presenting to union members employed at Vostochny Port JSC. That is, the money was allocated for gifts.
Perhaps Tikhonov had violated the trade union committee’s decision? The trade union submitted to the court affidavits given by members of the DUR local at Vostochny Port JSC. Around 95 per cent of the local’s members testified. They confirmed they had received gifts in December 2011. In some departments, gifts had taken the form of baskets containing sweets and alcoholic beverages. In others, the five hundred rubles were given in cash to each member. Each shop steward had decided how exactly to distribute the money, as gifts or cash. Only 15 of all the members surveyed did not confirm receiving gifts that year: some recalled they had not received them, while others could not remember the events because they had happened too long ago. It thus transpires that the allocated funds had indeed been spent on gifts.
The court, however, decided not to admit these documents and affidavits as evidence.
On the other hand, the fact that criminal charges were filed after a representative of port management made a complaint cannot but raise questions.
The fact is that the money that Tikhonov was accused of embezzling did not belong to Vostochny Port JSC.
Vostochny Port JSC had allocated the funds to the DUR local at the port, as stipulated by the collective bargaining agreement between the trade union and the port. The money is allocated for funding cultural, sporting, and recreational activities. The local must submit a report on how the money is spent, but as soon as it is credited to the trade union’s account, under Russian law the money belongs to the trade union local.
The DUR has a special independent audit commission for checking the financial activities of its local branches. It had audited Tikhonov and concluded he had not allowed funds to be misused.
Thus, the trade union did not consider itself a victim. And under Russian law only the person or organization to which the funds in question belonged can be recognized as the injured party in embezzlement cases. Vostochny Port management is completely irrelevant in this instance.
The lack of a proper injured party eliminates the possibility of criminal prosecution. But charges were filed, and precisely at the insistence of port management.
Why did this happen?
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Criminal charges were filed against Tikhonov in the wake of an active campaign by the trade union, including mass rallies and public protests by port workers, in June 2012.
On 2 June 2012, port workers held a rally demanding a rise in base pay and salaries for all grades of workers at the port, because freight turnover and shareholder dividends had been increasing there for quite a long time.
The trade union also sought an end to the practice of transferring dockers to fixed-term employment contracts (more than a thousand such contracts were signed at the port annually) and recruiting an ever-increasing amount of workers through subcontractors. Fixed-term contracts and casualization mean that dockers lose supplemental pay and additional holidays, earn less money, and are stripped of benefits. However, this means additional income for shareholders, and additional bonuses for port managers.
A mere two weeks later, on 19 June 2012, authorities searched the trade union’s offices at Vostochny Port and seized financial records. And on 22 June 2012, as we recall, charges were filed for the “misuse” of funds on New Year’s gifts.
Isn’t it curious that port management showed its concern over the New Year’s gifts – purchased with money not belonging to it and without any complaints by those who received the gifts – in June 2012, right after the trade union rally?
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The Dockers’ Union of Russia has no doubt that Leonid Tikhonov is innocent.
The trade union’s members, dockers at the ports of Vostochny, Nakhodka, and Vladivostok, also have no doubt of his innocence. They all came to support Tikhonov at the court hearings.
“Leonid Tikhonov is innocent. The charges against him are farfetched and amount to nothing more than persecution for trade union activities.” This is the position of the fraternal trade unions of the Confederation of Labor of Russia (KTR) and dockworkers’ unions in other countries affiliated with the International Transport Workers’ Federation.
“We are shocked by Leonid Tikhonov’s sentence and imprisonment,” says the DUR’s executive committee. “Our lawyers are currently seeking a review of this harsh decision and the release of the trade union leader. We will appeal the verdict, of course.”
The trade union is also preparing a complaint to the International Labor Organization.
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Leonid Tikhonov’s colleagues and comrades have not wavered in their support of him.
We hope to secure Leonid’s release and restore his good name. We will keep fighting for this until we have won. The trade union does not abandon its members.
Together we are strong!
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Leonid Tikhonov: biography from unionrights.ru
Leonid Tikhonov is chair of the Dockers’ Union of Russia (DUR) local branch at Vostochny Port in Primorsky Krai. Tikhonov was born on March 25, 1963, in the city of Sarapul in Udmurtia, where he grew up. At the age of sixteen, he went to work as an equipment tuner at the local radio equipment factory.
In September 1983, Tikhonov arrived in the Soviet Far East, where he enrolled in Vocational School No. 30, in Vrangel, near Nakhodka. The school then trained specialists for the entire region.
A year later, Tikhonov was drafted into the army. He served with a radar unit in Chukotka. After the army, in 1986, he returned to Nakhodka and continued working as an equipment operator at Vostochny Port.
In March 1988, Tikhonov was married. His wife, Svetlana, works as an electronic engineer at the Ship Traffic Control Center in Nakhodka Bay. They have a daughter, who was born in December 1988. Tikhonov founded the Vostochny Youth Residential Complex and chaired the Vrangel Youth Residential Complex Council.
Tikhonov worked for fifteen years as an equipment operator at Universal Handling Terminal No. 1 in Vostochny Port. In 1998, he was elected deputy chair of the Vostochny Port JSC trade union committee of the Dockers’ Union of Russia. He has been chair of this same local since 2003. During his tenure, he received a law degree so as to defend the interests of workers more intelligently.
Tikhonov’s hobbies include sports and camping. He took first place in his weight category at the European Powerlifting Championship in 2012 and the World Championships in 2013. He has also won a number of other prizes.
His friends, colleagues, and trade union comrades know Tikhonov as an open and communicative but also infinitely principled, resilient, courageous man, intolerant of injustice and always ready to come to the rescue.
■ Support Leonid Tikhonov by sending messages to the Union Rights Defence Centre.
■ Thanks (again!) to the Russian Reader for the translation. 18 January 2015.