( Reuters) MOSCOW – The head of a prominent Russian dairy said on Thursday he will fire employees who have abortions or refuse to be married in Russian Orthodox Church ceremonies.
Critics said the rules set out by the president of Russkoye Moloko, Vasily Boiko-Veliky, violated the constitution and labour laws.
While the Russian Orthodox Church criticised the rules, they are likely to add to concerns among liberals and minority faiths about the growing influence of the dominant church.
“We have about 6,000 employees, most of whom are Orthodox, and I expect them to be faithful and to repent,” Boiko-Veliky told Reuters.
He said the company was established to promote the Orthodox revival of Russia, and the rules were meant “to prevent future sins by employees”.
Russkoye Moloko means Russian Milk. The company’s dairy products are sold in many Moscow supermarkets and promoted as “ecologically safe”.
Ekho Moskvy radio quoted Boiko-Veliky as saying that a woman who has had an abortion “can no longer be an employee of our company … We don’t want to work with killers.”
He told Reuters he would not try to introduce tests to determine whether employees have had abortions or require them to sign a pledge, but would rely on them to be honest. He said he was more concerned about future conduct than the past.
According to Ekho Moskvy, Boiko-Veliky said the record heatwave Russia has endured this summer was punishment for sin and that church weddings could improve things.
Married employees have until Oct. 14, a Russian Orthodox Church holiday, to be wed in church ceremonies if they want to keep their jobs, Boiko-Veliky told Reuters. New hires who are married will have three months to wed in the church.
Russian Orthodox Church spokesman Vladimir Vigilyansky said the rules could cast the church and religion in a bad light, according to Ekho Moskvy.
Church officials could not immediately be reached.
The Russian Orthodox Church, which counts about two-thirds of Russia’s 142 million people as its flock, has enjoyed a revival since the 1991 collapse of the officially atheist Soviet Union and has been embraced by Russia’s leaders.
In the latest show of Kremlin support for the dominant church, Russia celerbrated a new public holiday last month marking the adoption of Christianity more than a millennium ago by Kievan Rus, seen as the precursor of modern Russia.
Rights groups and representatives of minority religions such as Islam have expressed concern that tightening links between church and state leave other faiths at a disadvantage.
“Russia is a multi-confessional country and one cannot violate the constitution, international law and the labour code, which say that to place any limits on the profession of faith or to force employees into it are categorically prohibited,” former Labour Minister Alexander Pochinok told Ekho Moskvy.