IKEA Workers’ Caravan: Long hours and little change at factory in Tikhvin, Russia

BWI launched the “IKEA Workers’ Caravan of Stories” to enable IKEA workers in different countries to share to one another their working lives and experiences. The caravan’s first stop was at the IKEA Industry factory in Tikhvin, Russia which is in the North-West region of the country. The factory, which employs over 1,000 workers, produces IKEA furniture and consists of sawmill, components, and furniture departments. 

Irina (not her real name), one of the IKEA workers in Tikhvin, agreed to share her working experience at the factory. She said that she has been working at the IKEA Tikhvin factory as a sorter in its components department for six years. Yet, despite her long work tenure, her position inside the company and her working life remained unchanged.

 

“For many years, we had normal working hours, working 5 days in a week, 8 hours per day. Twelve-hour shifts were limited to a few workers who had to maintain factory operations. Now, almost all workers endure 12-hour shifts. This is very difficult for me. I work two twelve-hour day shifts followed by two days off and then, followed by another two 12-hour night shifts. This is really exhausting, especially during the night. While some of my colleagues were able to adjust to this schedule and even like it; I am still struggling,” Irina said. 


Irina said that they have two 15 -minute breaks and a 30-minute lunch break during their 12-hour shifts. “This is really a very short time to rest and to eat. While IKEA provides good meal allowances to us, sometimes 30 minutes is not enough to run to the canteen and take a meal. Break times are also not included in our working time, so we get paid for only 11 hours, not for the 12 hours that we spend at work,” she said. 


She also shared that her salary is a little higher than the average wage in the region and IKEA provides transportation to and from work. “For workers who live in Tikhvin, transportation was always organised. However, she said that the company cancelled some routes in the cities forcing workers who live there to leave their jobs as public transportation is not readily available and it was not possible to arrive to work on time without company-provided transportation. 


On the matter of occupational health and safety standards, Irina said that the company is observing them. “This is especially important now at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. We had a paid lockdown for two weeks. When we came back to work, safety measures were put in place.” 


Irina said that even as IKEA sent them letters assuring them that there will no mass dismissals due to the pandemic, many are still worried that they will lose their jobs. She shared that she personally knew of three workers who were dismissed this year. Irina said that they were not trade union members, thus, reminding them of the importance of being a member of a union. “Three years ago, the Russian Timber Workers Union helped us organise at the factory. I was not among those who joined the union at the beginning. Back then, I have little knowledge about trade unions. Then a group of trade union leaders from different regions came to our factory for one week and talked to us about the trade union rights. That was the moment when I made up my mind to join the union,” she narrated.  


“For me, the trade union is like an insurance in case I have problems in my working life. I am a blue- colour worker. I still don’t know much about my labour rights, but I know where to ask,” Irina concluded.