The Russian government plans to use convicts’ labor to meet a shortfall in migrant workers in the construction sector, Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin told Russia-24 Channel.
He said that about 180,000 people could potentially work at construction sites in Russia, with a total shortage of labor force at 1.5 to 2 million. According to Khusnullin, 20 to 30% of the above-mentioned number of prisoners would make a workforce of 50,000, which is already a good result given the demand for 11,000 workers at the Eastern polygon, a transport railway cluster in Siberia, particularly for its Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur Mainlines.
Earlier, Deputy Head of the Construction Ministry Nikita Stasishin said that prison labor would be used in construction projects in the future and that for the time being prisoners would do other jobs.
“We are working on this problem with the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN). The issue of construction workers shortage has been not discussed yet, but large infrastructure facilities are likely to be the first. To make this decision, we need to understand the technicalities, the delivery of prisoners and their work,” Stasishin said.
Khusnullin believes that there are enough people with vocational jobs experience among those sentenced to correctional labor.
“This practice is not new. It was used in the Soviet Union. Those convicted for minor offences could be employed if they had vocational training in certain areas. In my opinion, this practice is reasonable. Now, we are working on this issue. It would be an option for certain projects,” the deputy premier told reporters in late May.
Around that time, Alexander Kalashnikov, head of the Federal Penitentiary Service suggested replacing migrant workers with convicts. He said that 188,000 out of 483,000 convicts in Russia can already redeem their guilt by correctional work.
Officials talked about this practice in April for the first time, but the preparations for it began a year ago. In general, everything was ready by April. As wek.ru wrote earlier, back in 2017, Russia began to open the so-called correctional centers for residents convicted for minor crimes, and initially, there were only four such facilities for 900 places in the "pilot" Stavropol and Primorsky territories, as well as in the Tambov and Tyumen regions. The situation then changed dramatically, and correctional centers numbered 60 as of 2020. According to the FSIN, 95 correctional centers were operating in Russia as of March 2021, with plans in place to open another13.
The first correctional center in Moscow opened in Zelenograd late last year. The Moscow region launched the first correctional center in Kashira in June 2020.
Three new correctional centers will open in the Moscow region in the second quarter of this year. The first is intended for a sewing factory in the Odintsovo urban district, the second for Dmitrovsky district farms and the third for the Istra district.
Kalashnikov hopes that the country will launch another 42 correctional centers and 16 sites with the capacity to house almost 6,500 prisoners between 2021 and 2022.
However, officials said that with the current shortage of workers, there might be not enough prisoners for all construction sites. For example, State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin said in May that there were too few prisoners in Russia to fully replace migrants. They can only meet 15% of the construction industry’s total demand for workforce and about 1 million more prisoners are needed to fully close the labor shortage.
"It is necessary to study this issue. If some are eligible and would like to work, this opportunity should be provided. At the same time, it should be understood that this will not solve the problem of labor shortages," Volodin said.
Interfax reported that Presidential Human Rights Council chairman Valery Fadeyev agreed that prisoners would not be able to replace migrants, but acknowledged that the FSIN proposal was worthy of discussion. “It is a huge problem when strong and healthy men spend time in prison having nothing to do. If the labor of prisoners is reasonably organized, why not?” Fadeyev said.
By the way, business people, for whom, according to the official version, the idea of using prison labor was invented and implemented, had a mixed reaction to it.
For example, Russian Railways (RZD) immediately and willingly supported the initiative and even found 600 vacancies where prison labor could be used, while VTB Bank CEO Andrei Kostin, as reported by RBC, was dubious about it. On the whole, he agreed that “everybody would benefit, both prisoners and the economy,” but admitted that this idea “gives him the creeps,” and expressed hope that this experience would not be used in other sectors.