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#2 - JRL 7070
Russian Labour Minister: Social Indicators Improved Last Year

MOSCOW, February 19. In 2002 most social indicators in Russia showed signs of improvement. This was announced today by Russian Minister for Labour and Social Development Alexander Pochinok at a full sitting of the Russian Labour Ministry. Pochinok said that wages of public sector employees rose by 1.6 times last year and were worth 60% of industrial workers' wages. Wages for state employees increased by 1.2 times, and wages in the armed forces increased by 2-2.5 times.

The minister said that in 2002 real monetary incomes of the population increased by 8.8%, real wages by 16.6%, and real pensions by 16.4%. He also announced that in 2002 Russia achieved the highest level of employment for the last 7 years. The average number of people in employment over the year rose by 1.9 million (3%). The minister also said that the number of strikes in Russia last year was the lowest in recent years. In 2002 there were 80 strikes - 3.6 times less than in 2001.

However, Pochinok stressed that these indicators of the standard of living should not be seen as satisfactory. He said that the number of Russians living below the poverty line was around 35 million, or 25% of the population. There is still a high level of disparity between income levels. According to official figures, the poorest Russians earn 14 times less than the richest.

Last year the Russian population continued to fall. According to Pochinok, on December 1, 2002 the population of the country was 143.2 million, which was 760,000 less than at the start of the year. He also said that the number of deaths from unnatural causes increased last year. In particular, deaths from alcohol poisoning increased by 6.5% and murders by 3.6%. According to the minister's figures, the problem of wage arrears worsened last year. At the beginning of 2003 arrears stood at 30.6 billion roubles (a little under USD 1billion), which was 700 million roubles (USD 22.2 million) more than at the beginning of 2002.

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