New Moscow Subway Line Links Work Cultures, Boosts Trust Between Russia, China
For someone who grew up in Eastern China's Jiangsu province where the winter temperature rarely dropped below the freezing point, Zhang Haijian, the deputy general manager of China Railway Construction Corporation Limited (CRCC) in Russia, was not overly concerned about the more than five months of snowfall in Moscow each year after his company won the contract to build new subway stations in the Russian capital
Instead, his biggest worries were how to convince his Russian colleagues, including the workers on the front line of the construction sites, to buy into CRCC's corporate culture of prioritizing speed, which means they may need to agree to work overtime.
"Chinese construction companies are famous for their speed and efficiency. The reason the local government in Moscow picked our company for this project is also because they valued our speed. How fast the project could move forward has become one of our top priorities. But this leads to an issue on how to work with local Russian staff members, because Russia is a country that respects the workers' rights to rest," Zhang told Sputnik during an interview in his office in downtown Moscow.
The CRCC won the bid in January 2017 to build three new subway stations and surrounding underground tunnels on the projected Big Circle Line in Moscow. As bilateral relations warmed in recent years, China's CRCC became the first foreign company to be contracted for subway construction in the Russian capital.
To overcome this challenge of different work cultures, Zhang explained that Chinese staff members at CRCC could only encourage their Russian colleagues to take on overtime work by setting a good example on their own.
"Most of our Russian colleagues believe they deserve to have rest after a full working week. We can only try to convince them by setting examples ourselves, because the Chinese management team does not take days off even on weekends. The construction site cannot halt operations during the weekends. That's why we also cannot take time off as managers. Most of our Chinese managers have to work about 7 days a week. For our Russian colleagues, we try our best to give them time off on weekends. But when the project is under a tight schedule, we had to try to persuade them to take on additional hours," he said.
"Our official working hours are from 9 a.m. [06:00 GMT] to 6 p.m. But normally, many people are still in the office after 6 p.m. Recently, sometimes I could only finish my tasks by 9 p.m. When our bosses like Zhang are working overtime almost every day, I'd be embarrassed to 'say no' to overtime work," she told Sputnik.
For Zhanaeva, who speaks fluent Chinese, CRCC's corporate culture is easier to get used to because she worked in a state-owned Chinese enterprise in Xiamen in South China for three years before returning to Moscow. For some Russian staff members, CRCC's demanding working environment could be too difficult to handle, Zhanaeva noted.
"When Chinese workers are looking for jobs, they would look at what kind of company it is and whether there is a chance for potential career growth. But for many Russian job seekers, especially those in Moscow where many opportunities are available, they pay much more attention to the salaries and working hours.
There is a big difference here," the human resources manager said.
Zhang stressed that their Russian employees' overtime work would be compensated properly.
"Under the law in Russia, an employee should not work longer than 176 hours a month. That's why if you count the weekends and public holidays, you got more than 100 days of rest time each year. In accordance with local labor regulations, we try our best to honor the local staff members' rights to have rest. In the meantime, we offer proper overtime pay to those who agree to take on additional hours voluntarily," he said.
According to Zhang, the CRCC's management team in Russia consists of about 50 Chinese and 50 Russian staff members, while the company hires about 300 Chinese workers and 500-600 Russian workers at its construction sites.
WINNING TRUST FROM FORMER TEACHERS
In the early 1950s, experts from the Soviet Union helped design the first subway line in Beijing and a large number of Chinese students came to Moscow to learn subway construction at the time. Today, the CRCC has to prove its technology and capabilities to China's "former teachers," Zhang suggested.
"Russia has renowned technologies and experiences in subway construction. They [Russian experts] helped design and build the first subway line in China. But today, Russia does not have a factory that can produce tunnel boring machines. That's why when we invited Russian experts to visit our factory in Changsha, they were surprised that China had factories that could build such machines, which were only available from manufacturers in Germany, the United States or Japan," he said.
Amid warming bilateral relations between China and Russia in recent years, many Chinese companies like CRCC still had to prove their competency in order to establish a foothold in the Russian market, Zhang pointed out.
"It's all about mutual trust. Russian companies used to admire hardware from European countries, especially equipment from Germany. Initially, they did not trust Chinese companies like us very much. It's always been a process of quashing their doubts and building mutual trust," he said.
The tunnel boring machines produced by CRCC have proved to be effective with their excellent performance in Moscow. In August, local authorities in Moscow planned to shut down nine stations on a subway line in the city for one week to ensure the safety of tunneling work at the Prospekt Vernadskogo subway station. Thanks to CRCC's efficiency, the segment of the subway line was reopened three days ahead of schedule.
"The local authorities in Moscow poured in so many resources because of the suspension of those subway stations. They offered free transit buses and deployed so many police officers to direct traffic. We could not make them bear such high costs for our work. That's why we tried our best to finish the work as soon as possible," Hao Qitao, a project manager at CRCC who is in charge of the construction site at the Prospekt Vernadskogo subway station in Moscow, told Sputnik.
According to Hao, the CRCC could dig about 30 meters (98.4 feet) of tunnel each day and is expected to complete the 4.6 kilometers (2.85 miles) of subway line it is contracted to build by mid-2020.