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Russian deputies ditch Soviet-era labour laws

MOSCOW, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Russian deputies moved on Wednesday to scrap labour laws brought in 30 years ago when the Soviet state was boss, backing a new code that allows private firms to hire and fire workers.

The new labour code is also designed to boost job security, locking in workers' rights, penalising employers over delays in paying wages and providing a higher minimum wage.

Deputies gave the bill a second hearing in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, by 283 votes to 125. A third and final reading is due on Friday.

If approved by the Federation Council upper house the bill could come into effect on February 1, 2002, coincidentally the birthday of Russia's first post-Soviet leader, Boris Yeltsin.

"The old code does not meet the demands (of our economy)," ultra-nationalist deputy Vladimir Zhirinovsky told state-run ORT television.

"In the body of a Mercedes we have the engine of a Zaporozhets," he said, comparing existing legislation to a notoriously feeble and cramped Soviet-era car.

The new code provides for a 40-hour working week, enshrines the right to paid leave after six months' employment instead of the current 11 months, and sets 28 calendar days as the minimum holiday entitlement.

Wednesday's late evening vote came after deputies trawled through thousands of amendments. The previous code dates from 1972 when the Soviet planned economy was at its height.

During the debate, communist supporters braved freezing temperatures to protest against the new code outside the Duma building. They argued the new law would leave workers at the mercy of "capitalist" employers.

The Duma debate focused on how much of the old protectionist legislation should be retained, with leftist deputies opposing a more liberal labour code that right-wing groups said would lure in foreign capital.

The bill is part of a long list of reforms endorsed by President Vladimir Putin's government, including the liberalisation of land sales and an overhaul of the tax system.

Ten years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian legislation does not yet recognise private employment, leaving 80 percent of the population outside the legal framework.

Russia's largest trade union grouping, the Federation of Independent Russian Trade Unions, supports the new code, but many other labour organisations do not.

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