”Wandering Workers” as a New Force: Russia’s Case
Contemporary otkhodnichestvo (“wandering working”) in Russia is a type of labour migration which is distinguished by its temporary and returnable nature. An adult able-bodied family member temporarily leaves home to offer proactively his or her services or seek employment in other regions (areas). Nowadays, otkhodniks come mostly from small towns or rural areas to offer their services or seek jobs in major cities – regional centers and capitals, in the industrially developed areas of the country. We applied different methods for assessing the number of Russian otkhodniks, and came to the conclusion that they constitute no less than 10-15, or maybe even up to 20 million families.
The mobility of economically active population remains concealed and imperceptible for official economic statistics. Otkhodniks are not recorded by government statistics. Neither are they registered in municipal reports. Most othkodniks find jobs through acquaintances rather than through official information channels or public employment agencies. The overwhelming majority of otkhodniks offers their services themselves or works unofficially. They pay no taxes. Therefore, for the economy they are non-existent.
The otkhodniks work far away from places of their permanent residence (where they are registered) and are often absent from home. They are not registered at places of their temporary residence and usually work informally. As a result, otkhodniks drop out of social government programs and are not covered by the mandatory government service package provided to all citizens. Otkhodniks practically never resort to free public healthcare, as they can not afford to be sick either at home or when working far from home. Contemporary otkhodnichestvo has little or nothing to do with another element of the social state - the public system of vocational education.
Otkhodniks do not participate in local social life and are practically non-existent for the local economy. They also escape the attention of municipal authorities. Moreover, they are beyond the scope of their interest. Nowhere and in no way do the municipal authorities engage with the otkhodniks; usually, the authorities are not even aware of them. In their activities, municipal bodies, just as government organizations, target primarily or exclusively people receiving income from the budget, i.e. members of the local community represented by pensioners, public-sector employees and those in need of support and custody. In the meantime, economically this is the least active part of any local community, whereas the otkhodniks and local business people are its most active and entrepreneurial part. However, neither the municipal, nor the government authorities interact with them or consider them as targets for political actions. This category of really active population seems not to exist within the competence of the authorities. In the existing type of relations with the public authorities, the phenomenon of otkhodniks seems to demonstrate the current stage of engagement between the state and its subjects which is traditional for Russia: avoid control by fleeing to the outskirts of the empire. Nowadays, its flight to the shadow niches of the economy which escaped the attention of the authorities.