Major Russian truckmaker Kamaz is considering hiring convicts at its factories amid a workforce deficit, CEO Sergei Kogogin said on Friday. The program is also meant to give non-violent prisoners a chance to learn a trade.
“We are assessing how to apply the [work] program developed by the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN),” Kogogin said.
“Prisoners who live in settlements will be given an opportunity to work. We are working in this direction,” he stated.
According to Kogogin, despite a significant growth in labor productivity the firm is approximately 4,000 workers short at its production facilities in Naberezhnye Chelny, an industrial city some 900 kilometers east of Moscow. The company currently employs 24,000 workers there. Kamaz has already brought in 450 migrant workers from Uzbekistan to cover the workforce shortage, but this is not enough, Kogogin says.
According to the Kamaz press service, the number of potential staff openings for prisoners will not exceed 100 people and will be a part of the company’s “social program.”
“The FSIN has a program for the employment of prisoners convicted for certain non-serious crimes. We are ready to accept up to several dozen [people]. This is a social program, not aimed to deal with [labor] shortages,” the press service specified.
Earlier this year, FSIN proposed a plan to use convicts as workers in sectors of the Russian economy which are short on staff amid an outflow of migrants due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the former head of the prison system, Aleksandr Kalashnikov, some 188,000 people in Russia can have their punishment replaced with compulsory labor. Kalashnikov stressed that the proposal would be nothing like the infamous gulag labor camp system widely used in the early Soviet days. However, the plan was pitched before Kalashnikov’s dismissal in connection with cases of torture in Russian prisons in late November.
Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin said in June that the prospect of attracting prisoners to work at Russia’s construction sites was under consideration. He said the industry lacks some 1.5 million workers, and authorities could potentially draw in 180,000 prisoners for the job, but only on voluntary terms. Most recently, FSIN and the Ministry of Justice unveiled a draft bill that would also allow convicts to work in Russia’s Arctic.
According to FSIN, Russian businesses have been increasingly interested in using convict labor, and 715 jobs in 11 regions have been occupied by workers from prisons under the existing FSIN program as of November. Some of them were even reportedly receiving salaries that exceed the regional average.
Prison labor is actively used all over the world. In many countries convicts sew clothes for the military, make electronic parts and assemble furniture, bringing profits to both the state budgets and businesses. Still, the prospect of using prisoners for compulsory work on projects outside of prisons evokes rather specific associations in anyone who’s heard of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
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