Modern Russian family policy

By Ludmila Totland, hospitant at NIBR’s department for international studies

In the 1990’s, when Russian society underwent a strong social and economic crisis, very few children were born in Russia. Despite the fact that the number of newborns since 2000 steadily increases, and currently even surpasses the number of deaths, in 2012 the reproduction coefficient was only 1.6 points, i.e. below the level (2.31 points) that is necessary for the reproduction of the population.

The needs of the modern, professionally active woman should interest Russian politicians and be the focus of social policies, housing programs, labor policies, educational policies, etc. It is therefore interesting to look at what the Russian authorities do to stimulate an increase in the birth rate.

Image credit Public portal “Papa i mama” (Mother and father). Picture gallery. Published 2013.

To give an idea of the situation of young families in Russia today, in this article I will provide an overview of the kindergarten system and social support programs for families with children in the country.

Modern Russian system of kindergartens
The leading normative document for pre-school education is the new Federal law on education dated 1. September 2013 no. 273, which will come into force 1. January 2014.

The new law, like the Soviet law “About the Basic Principles of National Education” no. 4536-8, proclaims the principle of free education made available to all. In the new law, the Soviet hierarchical structure of the educational administration system is maintained, where responsibility for methodical quality, standardization, control and financing lies with the federal level and is delegated to lower administrative units. Such a structure makes it possible to retain a comprehensive policy of state control of the approved national standards of education and training. Education is defined as a general responsibility for authorities at all levels.

The current legislation differs from the Soviet one in three aspects: First, in the new law the principle of private ownership of kindergartens is upheld. Kindergarten owners can independently decide whether they want to finance their cost by payment of parents or by state allowance. Secondly, local authorities may independently, depending on the requirements of the users, decide what services local kindergartens shall provide. Thirdly, the law makes 104 laws from the period 1973-2012 invalid. It simplifies legislation and makes it more accurate.

As distinguished from both the Soviet and the market-based legislation of the 1990’s, the current legislation does not allow state enterprises, state organizations or local governing bodies to act as owners of educational or training institutions. Local authorities cannot independently close down pre-school institutions.

The preschool teacher
In Russia a preschool teacher is called a “tutor” (vospitatel’nitsa). There are a number of expectations related to what kind of a person a teacher in a kindergarten should be: kind, polite, attentive, patient, inquisitive, careful, able to leave personal problems at home, etc. To put it briefly, the “tutor” has to be cultured and educated. There are nine “golden rules” the tutor has to adhere to, but the main principle is: Primum non nocere (do not harm).

In Russia today, there are 182 budgetary, 75 commercial and 5 none state (attached to joint-stock companies) pedagogical universities and colleges, as well as hundreds of local branches associated with the main institutions.

In 2013, the average grades required to be admitted for the study of pedagogy at two Moscow universities were 68.7 and 68.8 points. In comparison, the grades required at the State architectural university in Moscow and the Moscow Academy of business and management were 67.5 and 67.6 points, respectively. At the Ural state pedagogical university the required average grade was 66.5 points and at the Ural state university for transportation and technology, 60.1 points.
Future preschool teachers. Image credit Moscow governmental regional humanitarian college, Pedagogic faculty. Class of 2013.

In 2013, the Russian government allocated 266.5 billion rubles to the educational sector, and in 2016 it plans to increase the allocations to 290.3 billions. In 2010, the average salary of a preschool teacher was 25.400 rubles (approximately 580 Euros) a month. In 2013, the salary was raised to 41.500 rubles a month. By comparison, in 2010 a school teacher received 39.200 rubles a month and in 2013 64.100 rubles a month.

Types of kindergartens
Pre-school education institutions in Russia today are subdivided into two main types:

1. OUDM (Obrazovatel’nye Ucrezhdenija dlja detej Doshkol’nogo i Mladshego shkl’nogo vozrasta) – Educational institutions for children of pre-school and elementary school age. These are subdivided into three categories:

a) school-kindergarten (extended day based on elementary school for 7-year old children)
b) school-kindergarten for children with special needs
c) pre-school daytime groups (preparatory group for 6-7 year old children)

Image credit Ordinary kindergarten. E-Journal “Sovremennoe doshkol’noe obrazovanie” (Modern preschool education. Theory and practice), 2013, no. 7

2. DOU (Doshkol’nye Obrazovatel’nye Ucrezhdenija) – Pre-school educational institutions.

There are 6 categories of DOUs:

a) ordinary kindergartens (general program)
b) special kindergartens (i.e. intellectual, esthetical, artistic, sports or cultural programs)
c) kindergartens with a compensating program for children with special physical or psychological needs
d) kindergartens-sanatoria (for children with health problems);
e) comprehensive kindergartens (various combinations of general, compensating and rehabilitation programs)
f) children’s development centers (correction of deviations in the physical or mental development of the children as well as various health promoting programs).

In all types of kindergartens there are the following groups:

1. Compensating groups, for children with chronic diseases who are offered correctional activities and medicines
2. Health strengthening groups
3. Groups for children with chronic illness
4. Groups with a special profile (knowledge, communication, socialization, health, music, literature, fine arts, etc)
5. Groups for disabled children
6. Mixed groups

Image credit Public portal “Yandex”. Picture gallery. Published 2013

Opening hours
Traditionally, the opening time in kindergartens is 12 hours (07:00-19:00) and 24 hours, five days a week. The system of round the clock stays in the kindergartens was introduced in the early years of the Soviet reign. Both parents were expected to contribute to the building of the country by working. By providing professional care and supervision it enabled both parents to work shift and allowed them to bring their child home when convenient.

Kindergartens with a 24 hour service offer both ordinary and specialized programs. Recently, kindergartens with this kind of offer have become more and more popular among young Russian families.

Apparently, neither Russian parents nor the public perceive it as a problem to send children to kindergartens with a 24 hour service. At least there is no noticeable debate on the possible negative effects on the children related to such a protracted stay. This suggests that people have confidence in the kindergarten system and the competence of the pedagogues.

From 2000, a 10 or 14 hour service is offered in the kindergartens. The 14 hours service is quite popular as it is much cheaper than the round-the-clock service. The short 10 hour service makes kindergartens more available for broad groups of users.

Image credit Public portal “Akademitsjeskaja gimnasija” (Academic gymnasium). Picture gallery. Published 2013

How to register a child in a kindergarten: Example from the Moscow region
In 2009, there were 52.830 kindergartens in the Russian Federation. Never the less, in October that year there were one million children who used temporary solutions while they were waiting for a regular place in a kindergarten. The Minister of Education, Dmitry V. Livanov, promised that by the beginning of 2015 there should be 1.2 million places in kindergartens. Today, for instance, in the Moscow region there are 2.051 ordinary kindergartens with a general program that are visited by 424.000 children. The Moscow authorities have taken measures to create 1000-1500 temporary places annually for children waiting for a place in a kindergarten. This effort was financed with 46 million rubles, and since 2012 41.519 new places in kindergartens have been created. The Moscow government plans to solve the problem of insufficient places in kindergartens within 2015.

From 1 October 2010 an electronic system of registration for a place in a kindergarten has been introduced. Registration takes place continuously from August 1 to June 15, and the applicants can monitor their place in the electronic queue. According to the decision of the federal government, a Council of parents was introduced to supervise the electronic registration. The system guarantees an objective registration process, the parents are allowed to designate three kindergartens and a date of commencement.

The following groups may apply for a place in a kindergarten or are given preferential treatment:

– You have to be registered at a Moscow address to apply for a place in a kindergarten.
– Direct access: Orphans and adopted children, children who have lost one or both parents, children affected by the Chernobyl accident, children who grow up in homes with problems, and children of judges, prosecutors and intelligence officers will automatically get a place in a kindergarten.
– Prioritized according to category: Disabled children, children from families where one or both parents are disabled, children of certain groups of employees (military, police, fire service, etc) and children whose parent have been killed or disabled serving the state (military people, etc) will be given preferential treatment when applying for a place in a kindergarten.
– Category 1: children of sole providers,
– Category 2: children who have siblings in the DOU, except when the sibling receives specialized rehabilitative treatment
– Category 3: children of pedagogues in the DOU and other employed in the educational system in Moscow.

Alternative services

In addition to traditional kindergartens, in Russia there are kindergartens situated in private houses, centers of pre-school education and other alternative solutions. For example:

1. “Day time care” that offers a 10 hour service to children who did not receive a place in an ordinary kindergarten. Such groups are organized by an ordinary kindergarten and can be:

a) Adaptation groups for babies
b) Development groups for children with special needs
c) Evening and periodic stay groups
d) “Learning-by-playing” groups to develop the children’s intellectual, social, esthetic and other skills
e) “The special child” groups for disabled children
f) Correction groups for children with mental problems
g) Language groups for children that speak other languages than Russian
h) “Soon in school” groups
i) “Small Olympians” groups (sport)
j) “Learn to swim” groups
Image credit Private kindergarten «Olympic» i Moskva. Swimming studio. Public portal: “Academic gymnasium”. Published 2013

2. Play groups. An offer to children from 0.2 to 7 years that are unable to visit an ordinary kindergarten, in which children get psycho-pedagogical support, and their parents are offered consultation with experts.

3. Home kindergartens. An offer to children from 0.2 to 7 years. Only one tutor is required, and she must have her own child(ren) in the kindergarten. Local authorities give pedagogical support to the teacher.

4. “Early help”. An offer for children from 0.2 to 7 years that need psycho-pedagogical, social or medical help not available in an ordinary kindergarten.

5. “Play support” centers. An offer for children 0.6-3 years learning to develop certain skills by means of games and play organized by professional pedagogues.

Image credit Public portal “Akademitsjeskaja gimnasija” (Academic gymnasium). Private kindergarten «Olympic» i Moskva. Art-studio ‘Politra’. Published 2013

Private Kindergartens
In October 2013, in the Russian Federation there were 2.551 private kindergartens, of which 233 were in the Moscow region. These kindergartens are financed by payment from the parents, and the kindergartens may independently dispose of their means.

Private kindergartens offer a wide variety of high quality services. In the Moscow kindergarten Olympic, for example, there are such programs as: English, sensory training, mathematics, grammar, art, literature, speech therapy, art and needlework, music and dance, gymnastics, choreography, communication, swimming, developing games, outdoor activities. The health of the children is taken care of by a permanent pediatrician. The kindergarten is open from 7:30 to 22:00. The monthly price for a five-day service per week is 38.000 rubles (approximately 870 Euros).
Image credit Public portal “Akademitsjeskaja gimnasija” (Academic gymnasium). Private kindergarten Nagornaja Street 38, Moskva. Dance and choreography studio. Published 2013

In additives to the standard programs, both private and state kindergartens offer a wide variety of additional programs, such as sports, developing games, etc.

Pre-school education is financed through subsidies from the state budget that has to cover all expenses, apart from municipal and technical. Municipal budgets receive additional resources if kindergartens in the respective administrative districts, in addition to the general programs, offer additional specialized services in the form of sports sections or training courses.

To organize and operate a private kindergarten, a license is required. To obtain a license, the kindergarten, in addition to specialized programs, also have to offer a general program which will be financed from the state budget.

As both municipal and private kindergartens have to offer general as well as specialized programs, there is a fusion of the public and the private sector in pre-school education.

Image credit Public portal “Сампо.ру” Published 11.01.2013

Payment for a place in a budget financed kindergarten
In the Russian Federation, according to Law of 1.9.2013 no. 273, § 5, subsection 3 and subsection 5, 3rd paragraph, education at all levels is free of charge and financed from the state budget. This means that parental fees has to be considered as payment for attention and care.

According to the law, local authorities may, depending on supply and demand, determine the price of the services attached to a place in a kindergarten. So for example, by the resolution of the Committee on education in Moscow of 31. August 2011, no. 404, it is determined that a place in a kindergarten that offers a general program will be financed by the following annual allotments: for children from 1.5 to 3 years 67.440 rubles, for children from 3 to 5 years 79.920 rubles, and for children from 5 to 7 years 93.200 rubles. The annual charges for attention and care are: for children from 1.5 to 3 years 42.560 rubles, for children from 3 to 5 years 35.080, and for children from 5 to 7 years 26.800 rubles.

An important state initiative to support families with small children was to establish an upper limit on the payment of attention and care. By Law of 1.9.2013 no. 273, it is determined that the parents should not pay more than 20% of the real cost. For some categories (large families, families with low income, etc) payment should not exceed 10% of the real cost.

In 2013, the price of a 12 hour place in a kindergarten vary from 176 to 2 129 rubles a month. In the Nizhny Novgorod area, for example, where parents pay 20% of the real cost of services related to attention and care of their child, a place in an ordinary kindergarten with the general program costs 1 394 rubles a month.

Law on compensation
An important incentive to support families with small children was expressed in Federal law of 17.7.2009, no. 48. Paragraph 52, subsection 6 of this law states that parents with children in a kindergarten with the general program are entitled to a partial compensation of the related cost. For one child the compensation is 20% of the cost, for two children 50%, and for three and more children 70%. The same rule applies for children from one family visiting various pre-school institutions in the same administrative region.

This principle was expressed by the resolution of the Moscow government of 27. July 2010, no. 590 (revised 7.11.2012) and also in the latest Law on education of 1.9.2013, no. 273. This means, for example, that parents of one child that visits kindergarten no. 22 in the city of Balakhna in the Nizhny Novgorod region pay only 1.115 rubles a month.

Families with small children get other grants and bonuses as well, for example, 50% reduction of the costs of having a child in a kindergarten for families with a low monthly income and for families where one of parents is disabled, has physical or mental problems etc.

According to the resolution of the city administration of Balakhna in the Nizhny Novgorod region of 3.5.2006, no. 151, kindergartens have to reduce payment if the child does not visit the kindergarten because of illness or rehabilitation. Kindergarten no. 22 in the city of Balakhna, for example, reduces the payment if the child is absent from 3 to 75 days.

Grants during pregnancy
According to a Russian proverb, even a straw hut may be paradise as long as you are together with your beloved. Even if the Russian woman is known for her moderation, it is very seldom that people live in accordance with the moral this proverb conveys.

Neither a successful marriage nor an outstanding career is sufficient to make a woman choose to have more than one child. The modern woman wishes to have social programs that give security in uncertain life situations.

Families with children are supported economically in accordance with Federal law of 19.5.1995, no. 81 (revised 18.7.2013 as Law no.167) “About welfare payments to citizens with children”, Federal law of 29.12.2006 no. 255 (revised 23.7.2013 as Law no. 243) “About obligatory social insurance in case of temporary disability to work and motherhood”, and also by the resolution of the Health and Social Department of 23.12.2009, no.1012 (revised 23.8.2010) “About organization of and conditions for payment of grants to citizens with children”.

By these laws, grants are allotted to eight categories of citizens with children, among them pregnant women, women who give birth and people who look after or adopt children. Additional grants are handed out if the parents serve in the police or military. In case a second child is born, a special grant is paid, the so called maternity capital.

Grants to women who give birth to children
Maternal benefits during the period before and after childbirth is a central part of the state family policy that aims to increase the freedom of choice. According to Federal law of 19.5.1995, no. 81 “About state economic support of citizens with children”, chapter 2, subsections 7-12, for 70 days prior to and 70 days after the delivery women are entitled to economic support corresponding to 100% of their average salary. If two or more children are born, the period increases to 84 days prior to and 110 days after the delivery. Women are also entitled to grants determined by local legislation, for example compensation for temporary disability.

According to the new legislation, the woman herself can choose which one of two years before pregnancy shall be used to calculate the grant related to childbirth. However, the income that is used to calculate the grant should not exceed the size of the salary which is subject to social insurance, which in 2013 is 568.000 rubles.

As a onetime grant, women receive a certain amount of money, in 2013 13.087 rubles, paid by the employer. If both parents are unemployed, the grant is paid by a local social security office or the governmental fund for social support. The grant is paid no later than 10 days after it has been applied for and within 6 months after the delivery. Person’s, who adopt a child, receive a similar grant. Both grants are tax-exempt.

Grants to persons who look after children
If one of the parents chooses to stay at home with the child until it is 1.5 years old, that person will receive monthly payments from the state. In 2013 these payments were 40% of that person’s salary, and they cannot be lower than 2.454 rubles a month for the first child and 4.908 rubles for the second and each of the subsequent children. If a person chooses to take care of several children aged until 1.5 years, the payments are put together, but should not exceed 100% of a normal salary. In Russia today, the average yearly salary is 217.863 rubles, 40% of which is 87.145 rubles. Thus, a person with an ordinary income who stays at home receives about 7.260 rubles a month.

Financial support to unemployed mothers
Women who did not receive a salary during the last two years before pregnancy are also entitled to social support when their child is born. In this case the support consists of: 1) a one-time payment of 13 087 rubles for each live-born child; 2) monthly payments until the child is 1,5 years old, 2 600 rubles for the first child, 5 200 rubles for the second child and for each subsequent child; 3) single parents also receive a monthly extra grant, 2000 rubles until the child is 1,5 years and 4000 rubles until it is 3 years.

Image credit Public portal “Doroga domoj” (Way home. Younger. Annotations to parents). Published 2013

Maternity capital
In Russia, motherhood is protected and encouraged. By Regional law of 12.1.2006 no. 1(updated 6.2.2013) “About measures to support families with children in the Moscow area”, the Moscow government granted families where two or more children had been born or adopted during the period from 1.1.2007 to 31.12.2016 a certificate that grants a one-time payment. The money will be paid before the child reaches the age of three, and only one of the parents will receive such a certificate. In 2013, the allowance is 408.960 rubles, and in 2014 it will be 430.000 rubles. According to Federal law of 16.11.2011 no. 256 “About additional measures of state support to families with children”, the regional authorities may increase maternity capital. Thus, in the Moscow region in 1.1.2011 the amount of the capital was increased by 100.000 rubles. Since 2012, local governing bodies are responsible for documenting claims to maternity capital.

The maternity capital is financed from regional budgets, and the money the families receive is tax-exempt. However, the money can only be used for three purposes: 1) improvement of the family’s housing situation; 2) education of the child; 3) pension savings for the holder of the certificate. Since the beginning of 2007, when the Maternity capital program was introduced, 4.5 million families have received the Family capital certificate, of which two million have used the certificate money to improve their housing situation.

In 2013, there were 75.000 applications to spend the certificate money on university education, and 1.685 applications related to transfer of the money into pension funds. Today, the prolongation of the Maternity capital program till 2025 is discussed.

In the early 1990’s, the Russian state abandoned the Soviet ideology; by the end of this decade it also became clear that a market economy of the Western type was unsuited to Russian conditions. Today, Russian politicians try to find a Russian way to a well-functioning, robust society.

In its family policy, Russian authorities pragmatically utilizes both knowledge and experiences gained during the Soviet period and solutions based upon market economic principles. It remains to be seen whether today’s Russian family policy will increase the birth rate.

Class, Caste or Location? How Do Different People Assess Social Change In Nepal?

by Aadne Aasland and Marit Haug

Nepal has undergone profound political, social and economic change over the past decades. NIBR has now been present in Nepal for six years and has analyzed developments not only as seen from Kathmandu but in many different parts of the country.
In an article recently published by the Journal of Asian and African Studies we have used data from a large household survey conducted in collaboration with Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS) to assess how ordinary people perceive the changes that have taken place in their country. Particular attention was paid to possible differences in the assessments made by people of various castes and ethnic groups, religions and geographic locations. These are all characteristics that are politically salient and commonly referred to in the debates about the crafting of a new constitution, for example as regards to the geographic delimitation of the new federal states, and the division of political power.

A Truly Developing Country
According to the Human Development Index Nepal ranks 138 out of 169 countries with comparable data. Despite this modest rank, the country has undergone significant economic and social improvements over the past decades. Between 1980 and 2010 Nepal’s HDI rose by 2.4% annually. Educational opportunities have increased, especially for women, and the health situation has improved considerably. Politically, Nepal has gone from being a country ruled by an authoritarian king, to becoming a fragile, but pluralist democracy with many political parties competing for power in competitive elections.

The household survey (2007-8), which was conducted as part of a larger project on social exclusion and inclusion in Nepal obtained representative data about close to 2,900 households (more than 18,500 individuals) in four districts of the country (Banke, Dhanusa, Sindhupalchowk and Surkhet). In the survey the respondents were, among others, asked to compare different time periods, and whether they had experienced progress or deterioration across a set of indicators. Most people have experienced improvements across these different life domains, whether it is household facilities, income, access to services (including health services), and experience of discrimination. A substantial proportion report a feeling of status quo, while very few have experienced a deterioration of the situation. The figure below shows the level of improvements households have experienced for their general economic condition, a picture which is quite representative of other life domains as well.

How do you rate the general economic condition of your household today compared to 20-25 years ago?

Different Groups – Different Perceptions Of Progress?
The article studies whether responses to the seven questions are evenly distributed across the different population groups, according to caste, ethnicity, religion, geographic location as well as a number of social characteristics (sex, age, educational level, occupation, etc.). An index was constructed and multivariate analysis applied. Through factor analysis we were able to show that perception of social change could largely be ascribed to two separate dimensions: socio-economic change and socio-cultural change, each with specific features and differences in terms of population groups having experienced them.
Socio-Economic Change: Geography More Important Than Caste
Regarding socio-economic change, geographical differences are marked and do not seem to follow the Hill/Terai divide. Rather, centre-periphery differences seem more relevant: the more central districts display more social improvements. Interestingly, however, people living in rural districts give a more positive assessment of change than people living in cities.
While we found marked differences between caste, ethnic and religious groups in bivariate analysis, these effects disappear when controlling for other variables in the model. This is a very important finding; to the extent that there are differences between representatives of groups in assessing improvements of their socio-economic conditions, such differences are more a function of their score on other variables (notably socio-economic resources) than a result of which group they belong to.
As could have been expected, present socio-economic resources of the household are closely associated with perceived socio-economic change. It is noteworthy that the most decisive type of resources is the level of amenities and household consumer goods, while food avail¬ability and household income have somewhat smaller effects. Having outstanding loans or debts gives a negative effect on perception of socio-economic change.
Socio-Cultural Change: More Mixed Findings
As regards socio-cultural change, findings differ somewhat: Firstly, much less of the differences observed when it comes to socio-cultural change can be ascribed to the background characteristics of the respondents than was the case with perceptions of socio-economic change. The largest effect is found for whether the respondents observe a traditional way of living (resulting in a less favourable assessment of change). A sense of being excluded from the national mainstream has a negative effect on assessment of socio-cultural change, while civil society and political participation have positive effects. Ethnicity, caste and religion do not have effects on the perception of socio-cultural changes after controlling for other variables. With one exception (Surkhet) the same is the case with geography.
Class Beats Caste?
The article ends with a discussion of the finding, highlighting improvements across group characteristics and stressing the fact that poverty, human resources and region explain more of the variation than ethnicity, caste or religious belonging. While Dalits and Muslims are somewhat less positive in their evaluation of past change than other groups, our multivariate analysis shows that this cannot be explained by their group but rather by a set of other background characteristics, most notably their lower socio-economic status.
To the extent that social mobility has taken place among traditionally disadvantaged groups, Dalits and Muslims perceive social change in a very similar way to other castes and religious groups, and representatives of other groups with the same background characteristics are no more positive in their assessments of change than are Dalits and Muslims. Our findings lend support to those who argue that social mobility cuts across ethnic, caste and religious divides. However, one cannot conclude that ethnicity, caste and religion are irrelevant, because there may well be barriers in society, including discrimination and cultural traditions, that make social mobility less accessible for some groups than others.
Little Trust In Politicians, But Great Expectations
People in Nepal ascribe the positive change to personal agency rather than efforts of govern¬ment, political parties, non-governmental organizations or international donors. This should not, of course, be seen as a sign that political agency is unimportant. The majority of Nepalese people believe that the future will continue to bring progress both in terms of socio-economic improve-ments and socio-cultural integration. The challenge for policy-makers and those with political influence is then to provide opportunities for personal agency and social mobility, in particular among those people who have reaped fewer of the benefits of previous change, regardless of their group belonging and geographic location.
For an electronic copy of the article, please contact the authors (use links in beginning of post).

Picture: Aadne Aasland.

So what difference does it make? Socio-economic rights and democratising development in South Africa

Democratic transitions often disappoint in efforts to get popular material issues and interests on the political agenda. What, then, can poor, marginalised and even criminalised groups do to get their interests heard?

by Peris Jones

A recent report written by Peris Jones, finds that when a human rights and democracy intervention in South Africa conceived socio-economic rights as a bridge straddling everyday struggles for material needs and demands for better governance, interesting differences were made to democracy and development.

‘Drivers’ for democratisation
There is consensus among scholars that interventions concerning democracy and human rights promotion can only succeed where there are significant forces pulling toward democratisation in the countries targeted for support. An overarching challenge for external interventions is how well different donors are able to identify and utilise these internal ‘drivers’ for democratisation within a society. An important and objective consideration is under which conditions and stages of democratic consolidation different types of interventions, such as support for elections, political parties, support for parliaments, media, support for judicial and legal development, litigation, courts, access to justice, support for women’s political participation, civil society, social movements etc., prove to be most effective.

House of Parliament, Cape Town

South Africa’s context
There has been remarkable political and social progress since 1994 and the ending of formal apartheid. Peaceful transition, successive free and fair elections, democratic and economic stability, a constitution recognised as the most progressive in the world, and large increases in social spending budgets have all been noteworthy achievements. Democratisation, however, has generally failed to live up to expectations that were aroused at initial stages of transition processes in South Africa, as in other countries. Often reforms have been accompanied by rising levels of insecurity and inequality. The country is blighted by high levels of unemployment, crime, and also racially (and increasingly class) -skewed material deprivation. It is well documented that on specific issues, such as HIV/AIDS, crime, Zimbabwe, and Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) mainly benefiting a growing black middle class, that the Thabo Mbeki era (ending in 2008) witnessed increasing centralisation and intolerance to criticism.

Thabo Mbeki

Bottom-up issues
It also became abundantly clear that getting broad based but politically marginalised issues and basic everyday rights (such as addressing the problems in local service delivery rather than BEE) on to the national development agenda in South Africa is still a terrain of fundamental political contestation. South Africa currently has the highest rate of protests in the world, in the order of 11,000 a year. While there is a relatively strong and inclusive electoral system, there is dominance by one party, the African National Congress, and an opposition largely racialised, although this may be changing. There is also a Parliament weak in oversight functions in relation to the executive, but with a robust judiciary system and justiciable socio-economic rights (i.e. these rights can be invoked in a court). In addition, there is a vibrant civil society (including trade unions) undergoing its own transformations, especially with the mushrooming of new social movements.

Engagement with civil society
When aggregated, these economic and other issues, such as the manipulation of state institutions by Mbeki used against Jacob Zuma, tended to increasingly alienate grass roots participation and produced lower levels of civil society engagement. The reinvigoration of democracy that followed the ousting of Mbeki by the ANC’s internal democratic procedure reflects faith in President Zuma to encourage greater levels of engagement between government and the public. However, the neo-liberal economic model remains largely identical the same, with jobless economic growth but with evidence of an ever increasing overlap between party and state institutions (not least in use of public office to gain contracts and tenders for private gain).

Jacob Zuma

Voice and accountability
How, then, in such a context can democracy be strengthened whilst also confronting material needs more directly?

The approach taken by the South Africa Programme at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (henceforth ‘the Programme’) was to identify socio-economic rights as particularly significant drivers in strengthening South Africa’s democratic and development transition. A strategic decision was taken in 2006 to focus mainly upon the considerable endeavours in recent years to find innovative ways and means of translating these constitutionally enshrined socio-economic rights into meaningful policy change and implementation.

A rights-based approach is ultimately concerned with supporting claims of the rights-holder, providing voice especially for those excluded groups and for the accountability of the duty bearer, namely, the state (and also, at times, private actors). A range of approaches were encouraged in the Programme: legal aid, research, capacity building and training, but also engagement with the state, at times concerning partnership, at others, more open challenges. While other donor approaches use similar methods, the South Africa Programme’s focus on socio-economic rights, litigation and social mobilisation perhaps distinguishes it.

Human Rights impact
Increasing attention has been given in recent years to assessing the results of human rights interventions and what to measure. While a fuller account is provided in the report, what is important is to discern between both direct and indirect benefits at the level of the individual, communities and broader structural changes in some areas of decision-making and policy. Some of these are highlighted as particularly important for democracy and human rights strengthening.

Direct and Indirect Beneficiaries
Legal advice, for example, can be provided as a direct benefit. In the case of the Programme free legal advice was provided to over five thousand people, particularly women, people living with AIDS, and those threatened by eviction. When thousands of households are successfully defended against specific eviction threats and hundreds of domestic and other workers were compensated for unfair work dismissals due to paralegal interventions, these represent improved direct access to justice and socio-economic rights.

Broader effects
Less direct but nonetheless broader effects can be achieved through legal challenges and policy reforms. These can have implications for huge numbers, thousands, if not millions in some cases. The Communal Land Rights Act, for example, if implemented would have given considerable powers to unelected chiefs in rural areas potentially impacting land tenure of millions of citizens. After research and mobilisation, litigation led to the Act being declared unconstitutional. Other litigation brought by the shack dwellers movement Abahlali with the support of Programme partners, led to the KwaZulu Natal Slums Act being declared unconstitutional for removing municipal discretion over whether to evict.

This victory stopped the planned replication of the legislation in other provinces and represents a successful defence of the pro-poor eviction standards in South African law, particularly for informal settlements. Other court victories in inner-city Johannesburg also protected some of the most vulnerable from eviction. Lobbying, advocacy and submissions and opinions fed into the new Sexual Offences Bill which finally entered into law in December 2007.

Abahlali protest in Johannesburg

Social Activism
Social activism is increasingly overlapping with use of litigation as part of social campaigning in South Africa. The Programme itself has managed to a certain extent to support new forms of social activism, in order to build alliances and common platforms – for example in building a social activist ‘Platform against Evictions’ to bring together movements, organisations and groups concerned with urban and rural evictions. And litigation has provided a site for mobilisation on different campaigns from communal land tenure through to evictions and water rights campaigns.

Instilling democratic norms and processes

One of the biggest overall achievements is these various activities have challenged and tested institutional and legal structures. Challenging policy and legislation in strategic sites has particularly helped to animate human rights and make them mean something for the grassroots in South Africa. Justice has been brought both closer to many South Africans and to instil democratic norms (such as participation and meaningful engagement) and the rule of law. Groups criminalised or having their concerns consistently disregarded by policy makers reflected upon how their direct engagement in court cases enabled them to have their voices heard. Some partners have improved the process dimensions of democracy in innovative and direct ways.

The Poor People’s Alliance protests outside the Constitutional Court in May 2009.

Challenges: Policy making, sustainability and representation

Litigation sometimes risks becoming too technical, costly, long winded, and focused on legal principles often abstract to the pressing needs of the majority. There is also a danger that policy-making and actual implementation can be conflated with a narrower focus upon ‘law making’. The Programme showed, however, that when social activism is allied to litigation and other approaches then a powerful tool can be created. A broader challenge for NGOs more generally is to maximise the potential of litigation by using it as merely one method within a broader social campaign.

There is the overall challenge, also to create better connections between human rights NGOs, grass roots communities and social campaigns. In terms of sustainability, the closer an organisation is to the ground, i.e. community or grass roots based, the harder it appears to be to attract funding. While community and grass roots organisations do approach the bigger more urban based NGOs for support, such linkages should be better strategised by the bigger actors in order to strengthen their effectiveness, legitimacy and representativeness.

South Africa has travelled a considerable distance in post-apartheid transition- but we should not expect the road to be straight and flat but one rather more bumpy and prone to detours. Expansion of housing and services, for example, can be slow and simply fails to keep up with the rapid pace of increasing needs. On these and other issues government often shies away from public engagement. In such a context the valuable contribution that the Programme made was the aggregate impact in implementing socio-economic rights which helped to keep democratic space open.

The latter has been entirely necessary in South Africa’s stage of democratic transition but is by no means sufficient. Sometimes human rights organisations do need reminding that legal approaches should not substitute political processes (often grassroots in nature) and certainly better linkages should be made between the two spheres. Striking an appropriate balance, however, is challenging but can also create a positive tension between democracy and human rights. The difference made: socio-economic rights have contributed to democratising development, while also therefore developing democracy.

This is an edited and amended out-take from the fuller report, see ‘The South Africa Programme: Final Report 2005-2009’, main author Peris Jones, on behalf of the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights.

For related publications on democratisation, human rights impact and South Africa see:
Jones, Peris and Kristian Stokke (eds. 2005) Democratising Development: The Politics of Socio-Economic Rights in South Africa (Martinus Nijhoff; Leiden)

Langford, Malcolm et al (eds.) Symbols or Substance: The role and impact of Socio-economic Rights strategies in South Africa (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2011), which is a broader discussion of human rights impact in South Africa, and includes a chapter by Peris Jones discussing one local project intervention.

All images from Wikimedia Commons.

Who are the Temp Agencies? Adecco Health and Other Intermediaries

Norwegian temp staff agencies have received massive media attention recently, not least due to the ongoing investigation of Adecco Health and their role in municipal health care facilities in Oslo. Also, a new EU Directive regulating the temp staff industry is waiting to make its mark on the Norwegian labour market. But who are these businesses at the heart of the debate? And how are they changing the society we live in?

A comment* by Ann Cecilie Bergene (Work Research Institute) and David Jordhus-Lier(NIBR).

An official definition of a temp staff agency is a business whose main function is labour hire. Hired workers are employed by the temp staff agency, but under the supervision of the client.

The Origin of Norwegian Temp Staff Agencies
The Norwegian Working Environment Act states that workers should be permanently employed. Still, temp staff agencies are nothing new in Norway. In fact, the first agency was established in 1948. Their original purpose was to supply extra labour during production peaks, seasonal demand or illness. A labour reserve which can be called upon at short notice is an advantage for employers. They can do so either through keeping a list of temp staff on their own, or by using an external agency.

Enter the Private Temp Staff Agencies
Until July 2000, labour hire in general was not legal. The official concern at the time was that these workers were not included in pension benefit schemes, tariff agreements and welfare programmes. The Bondevik government appointed a committee (Blaalid-utvalget) with a mandate to revise the legal framework and adapt it to the demands in the labour market. The committee decided unanimously in favour of private temp staff agencies.

Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik’s (Christian Democrats) government oversaw the large-scale entry of private temp agencies into the Norwegian labour market.

Temp Workers’ Rights
In 2010, the Norwegian Department of Labour held a hearing on the new EU Directive 2008/104/EC on temporary agency work adopted by the EU to increase labour mobility throughout Europe. The Directive gives temp staff workers equal rights and similar wages and conditions to other employees in a workplace. Another motivation for the directive is to facilitate job creation by the growing temp staff industry.

Increasing Temp Employment Expected
Weak or non-existent employment regulations, increased competition and the need for flexibility can tempt businesses to employ only a small core of permanent key personnel, supplemented by temp staff workers on short-term contracts. On the other hand a strictly regulated labour market also acts as an incentive for business to avoid employer responsibility. The strict requirements for employers in the Norwegian labour markets are likely to lead to a dramatic increase in temp staff employment in the near future.

Employer Responsibility Avoided?
We can distinguish between labour hire and outsourcing. In an outsourcing relationship the client is not directly responsible for the work functions/the work performed – the sub-contracting agency coordinates this work according to the contract with the client. The in-house employment contract between employer and employee has become substituted by a commercial contract between two companies.

Recently, public entities and private businesses have seen new opportunities in the temp staff industry. In addition to flexibility, clients avoid employer responsibility which involves time consuming tasks such as dealing with sick leave and work schedules. The business buys a service, and the client does not have to worry about whether the employer and the external agency sign an employment contract and whether this contract is respected.

You Can Outsource, But You Can’t Hide
However, as illustrated by the recent exposure of unacceptable working standards at one of the contracted-out care facilities of the City of Oslo (the case of Adecco Health) the client does not fully escape responsibility – particularly when the client is a public institution. The media coverage and debate that has raged since the case of Adecco Helse was made public contributes to a redefinition of what society tolerates in terms of avoidance of/skirting employer responsibility.

The Adecco Headquarters in Switzerland.

A Challenge To Solidarity In The Workplace?
A revised Working Environment Act, and specialisation by labour market intermediaries, have made it possible for client firms to outsource tasks which are right at the core of their operations. Room cleaning at Norwegian hotels is a recent example. Because these contractors themselves experience a demand for flexibility, they also make use of temporary workers, either through their own or external temp staff agencies. It goes without saying that when a worker’s employment is mediated by a contractor and a third-party temp staff agency, the connection to his/her workplace becomes weak. Rather than an employment contract, two separate commercial contracts represent the formal obligation of the workplace to those working there.

In this new employment dynamic, there are severe challenges for those trying to establish a sense of belonging and solidarity in the workplace, be it trade union locals or HR managers.

The Temp Staff Industry’s Agenda
The temp staff industry does not only respond to increased demand for flexible labour solutions. They are actively trying to open new market opportunities. In Norway, the NHO affiliate NHO Service (the National Federation of Service Industries) has been instrumental in pushing this agenda. The biggest industry organised in NHO Service is the temp staff industry. The organisation advocates for the above-mentioned EU Directive, as it will deregulate the business considerably and make it easier to expand. At the same time, the presence of organisations like NHO Service will also discipline less serious actors in the business by enforcing standards and ensuring a certain level of transparency.

Small-Scale Actors in the Industry
What should be pointed out, however, is that the temp staff industry does not only consist of businesses under the NHO Service umbrella. Many agencies are small, and an increasing number facilitates international labour migration from other labour markets (e.g. Sweden, Lithuania and Poland). In principle, a labour broker can be a person with a cell phone as his/her sole investment.

Although this part of the industry is more wide-spread in other countries, the Norwegian labour market is not immune to their presence.

Societal Norms and Public Services
The norms of a society and the regulations of a national labour market decide how businesses organise their workforce. The permanent job-for-life has been the ideal for a long time, but in the “new economy” another value is flexibility. Flexibility does not have to be a disadvantage to an employee. Still, analysts point out that while some use this flexibility to his/her own advantage, the majority of un- or semi-skilled temporary workers cannot control the value of their own skills. For the latter group flexible work spells insecure employment. The benefits experienced by the first group should not legitimise the insecurity felt by the latter.

Forgetting the Workplace?
The penetration of temp staff agencies and contractors in the public sector reflect changing social norms. The distinction between public and private business principles is becoming blurred. Supporters argued that the privatisation of health care facilities was in the interest of the patients. The focus on the user of services (often framed as the ‘customer’) is perhaps a positive outcome of this shift. But we dare ask if what was forgotten along the way was these institutions are also workplaces.

To cite the political editor of the business daily Dagens Næringsliv, Sofie Mathiassen: “Nursing homes should be run out of concern for the residents, and the residents only”. This is a statement that only a few decades ago would be viewed as extreme. Today it encapsulates the prevailing mindset. But as the case of Adecco Helse shows us, the way our public sector and our businesses function as workplaces triggers fierce debate – and should continue to do so!

* An abbreviated Norwegian-language version of this blog post was published as a comment in Dagens Næringsliv 16 March 2011.

NIBR Researcher Writes Award-Winning PhD

NIBR congratulates Dr. David Jordhus-Lier at the Dept. of International Studies for winning the 2010 PhD Prize of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS-IBG)’s Economic Geography Research Group.

Dr. Jordhus-Lier won the prize for his thesis “The Practice of Neoliberalism: Responses to public sector restructuring across the labour-community divide in Cape Town“, which concerns union organizing among municipal employees in South Africa.

New NIBR Article on Labor Geography

As part of the Hotel Worker Project, a NIBR research project on the conditions for workers in the hotel sectors of various countries, an article has now been published by Ann Cecilie Bergene, David Jordhus-Lier and Anders Underthun.

The article, which is in Norwegian, presents labour geography as an analytical framework, and is published in the journal Søkelys på arbeidslivet, Volume 2010 Issue 3. To access the article, click on the image below.

Can workers shape economic geographies?

If we want to understand how the economic map changes over time, we cannot only look at the strategies of firms and state institutions: workers and their political organisations are also important in making decisions as to where and how the economy is organised.

This was an important idea which labour geography introduced to social sciences in the 1990s. But if we are to understand why some workers’ actions matter more than others, we must develop an understanding of labour agency which takes into account how the politics of workers are embedded in the structures of the global production networks, state apparatuses, community structures and labour market intermediaries.

Read Neil Coe and David Jordhus-Lier’s recently published article in Progress in Human Geography – Constrained agency? Re-evaluating the geographies of labour – via OnlineFirst here.

Please visit the Hotel Project’s webpage.

Picture: David Jordhus-Lier; Design: Anne Marie Korseberg Stokke

Viva Las Vegas!

Researchers from NIBR and the Department for Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo have started a three-year project with funding from the Research Council of Norway.

The team will look at hotel workplaces in Oslo and Akershus, focusing on international labour migration, transnational regulatory frameworks and processes of corporate restructuring worldwide.

But what has this got to do with one-armed bandits in the Nevada desert? At their project webpage, you can join Anders Underthun as he visits the people who run Las Vegas – those who tidy the casinos, make the beds, pour the champagne and serve the food… And find out what hotels you should be staying at if you want to visit Sin City with a better conscience. Read the blog here.