Underage employment in Russia explodes as adults get stuck in war

Teens fill in unskilled labor force, but get paid less.

Employers in Russia are increasingly hiring underage teenagers due to a severe shortage of labor force while adult workers are busy fighting at war in Ukraine or have emigrated.

In 2023, Russian companies opened more than 42,000 vacancies for minors as young as 14 – a nearly three-fold rise from the previous year, according to Vedomosti, an economic outlet, which cited data from the hiring agencies HeadHunter and Superjob as well as retailers Ozon, Auchan, Vkusno-i-Tochka. 

Most job openings are advertised for couriers, promoters, salespersons, and cashiers, mainly in the sectors of trade, HoReCa, services, and administrative support.

Employers prefer hunting for minor workers at vocational training institutions – so-called “technikums” – where youngsters learn a profession, the report says.

The French retailer Auchan, for example, which not only remains in business in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, but also got caught shipping products to the Russian army and pro-Moscow mercenaries, hired last year at least 448 teenagers aged 14-17 in 50 cities across the country between May and September, compared to just 82 in 2022, Auchan Retail Russia’s HR manager Daria Demina told the outlet.

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Vkusno-i-Tochka, a fast food chain based on the former McDonald’s – which has withdrawn from Russia, currently employs over 60,000 individuals, of whom more than 70% are youths aged 15 to 25.

Last year, it hired 18,731 minors, including 976 who were 15 years old, the report said.

Various sources put Russia’s manpower loss as a result of the war in Ukraine at minimum 200,000 and maximum 400,000 – primarily men of active labor and reproduction ages. An estimated one million Russians have embraced mass emigration in 2022. According to Waldometers.info, a portal of real time statistics, the Russian population stood at around 144,444,300 people in 2023. 

A 2023 survey claims that 86% of Russian companies are short of staff, almost in all sectors of economy.

In transportation and logistics, the shortage was reported by 88% of companies, in industry – 87%, in trade and services – 86%, in banks and finances – 85%, in the IT sector – 83%. 

Acknowledging the growing deficit of labor force, in June 2023 the government enforced a new law that lets employers hire among individuals aged 14 to 18, with the written agreement of parents. It also simplified the hiring process for minors and guaranteed the same labor rights as for adults, but provides for less responsibility and fewer working hours. The law also makes it more difficult for companies to lay off their underage employees.

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Experts who spoke to the publication on the issue said the underaged workers wouldn’t cling on their jobs for ever, regarding them as temporary opportunities to gain new knowledge and experience.

It is also about the money, of course, but the average gross wage for unskilled underage employees is low – 53,000 rubles or some 530 euros / 570 US dollars – and many companies would not pay even the official minimum. For adults, the average wage amounted to the equivalent of 745 euros or 800 dollars as of October 2023, according to Tradineconomics

Youngsters who are familiar with technologies, social media, online marketing, and creative design fare better than their unexperienced peers.

While employers are obliged to offer training courses for minors being employed, in reality they don’t have financial and human resources to do so – for the same reason they are forced to hire underaged teenagers.

What happens when surviving adults return from war to their civilian jobs is not covered by the new law.

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