Ukraine government risks opening ‘Pandora’s box’ for workers

By | July 23, 2023
Ukraine government risks opening ‘Pandora’s box’ for workers

He says the main problem with the proposed new law is the introduction of individual contracts at small and medium-sized businesses.

“De facto, this regime assumes that literally anything can be entered into an employee’s employment contract, without reference to Ukrainian labour laws. For example, additional grounds for dismissal, liability, or even a 100-hour week,” explains Sandul.

“Also, it is the individual labour contract that becomes the basis for regulating all relations at the enterprise, which neutralises the role of collective agreements and relegates trade unions to the background.”

Ukraine’s parliamentary committee on EU integration previously stated that the proposed legislation “weakens the level of labour protection, narrows the scope of labor rights and social guarantees of employees, in comparison with the current legislation”, thereby contradicting Ukraine’s obligations under its Association Agreement with the EU. The bill was also strongly criticised by the ILO in Ukraine.

“If this bill is voted on in the second reading, then workers will no longer have any protection against arbitrary actions upon dismissal,” opined a former minister of social policy, Andriy Reva.

The ruling party is advancing

For more than a year, the proposed bill failed to find support among legislators.

But this situation changed in May, when supporting votes were provided by the Trust political party, as well as by former members of the pro-Russian party, Opposition Platform/For Life, which was banned by Parliament this month. Perhaps the crackdown against the latter party – which now includes a proposal to deprive these MPs of their mandates – made some of its MPs more willing to accommodate the changes.

Now the Ukrainian parliament is in a hurry to prepare for a second reading under a so-called ‘accelerated procedure’, while there are enough votes to approve it. The key question is whether Ukrainian unions, in the current military environment, will be able to block this bill or achieve significant changes before the second reading takes place.

Sandul says that while Ukrainian and international trade unions led a campaign against the proposed law last year, Russia’s invasion means there can be no protests, and therefore “information campaigns are now one lever of influence on the situation”. On 18 May, the Joint Representative Office of Ukraine’s trade unions addressed an open letter to Ukrainian MPs, calling on them not to vote for bill 5371 in the second reading.

According to Lichman, “there are many ways to find a compromise” on the draft law, including proposals from trade unions ahead of the second reading of the legislation. If the situation deteriorates, she says, then trade unions could ask President Volodymyr Zelenskyi to use his right to veto new legislation. Lichman also told openDemocracy that the concerns from the EU integration parliamentary committee have been prepared for inclusion in the second reading of the proposed law.

Meanwhile, Dudin believes Ukraine’s new EU bid could become a “trump card” in the hands of trade unions. “Now human rights, including labour rights, will be monitored by the EU. Therefore, trade unions, which are morally right in this situation – their members are also at war – can demand a moratorium on such reforms in wartime conditions in the spirit of European integration,” he says.

Today, Ukraine’s economy and society are under extreme pressure from the Russian invasion. Roughly 10 million people have left their homes, with many forced to flee abroad. But even among those who remain in Ukraine, millions face losing their jobs “temporarily” or the threat of unemployment.

In this sense, these laws could worsen the already desperate situation of many Ukrainians – an unjustified test for people fighting against Russian aggression.

Update: on 23 May, openDemocracy received a response from New Post. The company reported it had suffered more than 500m hryvnya (approx. £13m) in damage as a result of the Russian invasion, including damage to or destruction of 100 sites. As of May 2022, the company said, it had helped deliver 5,200 tonnes of humanitarian aid in the country.

Regarding the suspension of the collective agreement, the company stated that, under the wartime suspension of labour laws, only provisions in the collective agreement that “provide more rights and privileges in comparison with the current legislation of Ukraine have been temporarily suspended”. Further, the company remarked that its dialogue with trade unions “has not stopped and will never stop”, and that it is “ready for a dialogue on what to do next”. As to the suspension of roughly 1,500 employees, New Post noted that this affected workers who it deemed could not work due to the Russian occupation or damage to facilities.

“Although this step is provided [under the wartime suspension of labour law], for us it has become a forced measure,” the company said. “Because in times of war the main goal is the survival of business and only then its development. […] It should be understood that these measures are temporary.”