October 17, 2009 / 3:52 PM / 9 years ago

Russia AvtoVAZ workers rally for nationalisation

* Estimates of rally size range from 700 to 3,000 people

* Numbers are a small fraction of AvtoVAZ (AVAZ.MM) staff

* Government efforts to avert unrest succeeding so far

TOGLIATTI, Russia Oct 17 (Reuters) - Workers at troubled Russian automaker AvtoVAZ (AVAZ.MM) gathered on Saturday in a peaceful protest to renew calls for the nationalisation of the firm, which lost $655 million in the first half of this year.

“We demand that Putin is appointed president of AvtoVAZ, let him run the factory as a second job,” Russian parliamentarian Anatoly Ivanov told the crowd.

Estimates of its size varied widely.

Its organisers, the independent Unity trade union, estimated that 3,000 people attended, while Russian news agencies cited Interior Ministry estimates of roughly 700.

Both figures represent a tiny fraction of the Soviet-era plant’s 102,000-strong workforce, indicating that recent government efforts to avert unrest in this industrial city on the Volga River have been successful.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin earlier this month dispatched his deputy, Igor Shuvalov, to the plant to discuss investments by minority stakeholder Renault (RENA.PA) and reassure workers alarmed over the company’s plans to cut 27,600 jobs. [ID:nL6262057]

“It will be a thought-out programme. No-one will attempt any job cuts without prior consultations with the factory’s workers,” Shuvalov said at the time, dismissing AvtoVAZ’s layoff figure as “lies.”

It remains unclear how many jobs will be lost at the plant this year, though it appears that 5,000 administrative workers and managers will be let go from December.

Togliatti, one of Russia’s many single-industry cities, is a key test of the Russian government’s ability to manage the ongoing crisis.

Thus far, sporadic protests have not led to the type of unrest seen in the northwestern Russian town of Pikalyovo, where workers blocked a motorway in June to protest over unpaid salaries. [IDnL4450983]

Putin personally visited the town to order Oleg Deripaska, once Russia’s richest man, to restart the factories, but the government has since pressured regional authorities to maintain stability without direct intervention by the Kremlin.

Occasional protests have been ongoing in Togliatti since August when AvtoVAZ unveiled plans to introduce a 20-hour work week from September and cut monthly wages to about 21,931 roubles ($744).

That protest, also organised by the Unity union, first called for the plant to return to state ownership. [ID:nL6144441]

Government-held conglomerate Russian Technologies already owns about 25 percent, as does investment bank Troika Dialog.

AvtoVAZ’s official ASM trade union, which represents the majority of the workers, has not supported any of the rallies, and it earlier this week told them not to attend the Saturday meeting.

Writing by Alfred Kueppers; Editing by Toby Chopra

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