Stop the attack on the labour rights of Ukrainian workers! (articles and statements)

We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, fighting a brutal invasion by Putin’s Russia. We wish their people’s resistance victory over this criminal aggression.

However, it is with dismay that we learn--right in the middle of their life-and-death struggle—that Ukraine’s working people have come under attack on a second front: laws attacking their labour rights and working conditions have been passing through the Ukrainian parliament.

The latest and worst of these, Laws 5371 and 5161, were adopted on July 19.

This petition explains how the Laws would destroy Ukrainian workers’ rights and working conditions if they were allowed to come into effect.

They would legalise extremes of exploitation in Ukraine that would also endanger workers’ rights across the whole of Europe.

One man has the power to stop this disastrous legislation—President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He can ratify the laws or veto them.

Since it is vital that Laws 5161 and 5371 not be ratified, this petition calls on President Zelensky to stand with Ukraine’s workers by exercising his presidential veto on both laws.

They must be replaced with measures which would increase the security of workers and enable them and their families to survive the devastation of war and build a new and stronger Ukraine.

Demand that President Zelenskyy act! Sign the petition here ! Send it to your networks!

[Reposted from European Network in Solidarity with Ukraine, July 31, 2022.]

President Zelenskyy must veto anti-worker Laws 5161 and 5371!

Dear President Zelenskyy,

Expressing our sincere solidarity with the people of Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, we members of European and global trade unions call on you to impose your presidential veto on newly adopted controversial Laws 5371 and 5161. Otherwise, millions of workers could lose their protection against abuses by employers.

Law 5161 (introducing “zero-hour” contracts) and Law 5371 (“On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts to Simplify the Regulation of Labour Relations in Small and Medium Enterprises and Reduce the Administrative Burden on Entrepreneurship”) were approved in their second reading by the Ukrainian Parliament on July 19.

We are concerned that the possible implementation of these Laws will result in effective abolition of important labour rights and some of the very last protections safeguarding workers against the arbitrary actions of employers, cases of which have become more frequent in this time of war and economic downturn.

If Law 5371 is ratified, a new chapter III-B entitled "Simplified regime regulating labour relations" will be added to the Labour Code of Ukraine, allowing employers to “contractually curtail” workers' rights in enterprises employing up to 250 workers—in other words the rights of the vast majority of employees.

For workers, the “simplified regime” will mean arbitrary dismissals, overtime work on spurious grounds, or ignoring collective agreements in terms of wage payment. It will also jeopardise workers’ possibilities to unionise and to defend their rights via trade unions.

Under current circumstances, the adoption of these Laws, which have been strongly criticised by both Ukrainian and international trade unions, would aggravate social inequality and hamper social dialogue. Furthermore, it may also undermine Ukraine's prospects for European integration.

The Parliamentary Committee on Ukraine's Integration into the European Union has found Law 5371 to be inconsistent with the minimal social standards of the European Association Agreement. Nor does it comply with the conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO).

It does not meet a number of minimum standards enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, the European Social Charter (revised) and other European Union regulations.

It also violates standards stipulated by the ILO Conventions No. 132, No. 135, No. 158, and even founding Convention No. 1 (1919), on the limitation of working hours in industrial enterprises to 8 hours a day and 48 hours a week.

We, the undersigned, therefore respectfully urge you to consider the already precarious situation of workers in Ukraine and use the presidential veto on Laws 5161 and 5371. Rejection of this legislation will ease the burden on millions of Ukrainians already suffering from the brutal Russian invasion, and so help strengthen their resistance to it.

Sign here

Ukraine uses Russian invasion to pass laws wrecking workers’ rights

The Ukrainian parliament has passed two new radical measures on labour liberalisation, prompting fears of Ukrainians losing workplace rights permanently as Russia’s war puts huge pressure on the country’s economy.

In two laws passed on Monday and Tuesday, MPs voted to legalise zero-hours contracts and made moves towards removing up to 70% of the country’s workforce from protections guaranteed by national labour law.

The latter measure means the national labour code no longer applies to employees of small- and medium-sized enterprises; instead, it is proposed that each worker strikes an individual labour agreement with their employer. It also removes the legal authority of trade unions to veto workplace dismissals.

Draft law 5371 had previously been criticised by the International Labor Organization, as well as Ukrainian and European trade unions, on the basis that it could “infringe international labour standards”.

Ukraine’s ruling Servant of the People party argued that the “extreme over-regulation of employment contradicts the principles of market self-regulation [and] modern personnel management”.

Red tape in Ukraine’s HR laws, it suggested, “creates bureaucratic barriers both for the self-realisation of employees and for raising the competitiveness of employers”.

The Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine will now ask president Volodymyr Zelenskyi to veto draft law 5371 when it goes to him for signature – but will not make the same request over the proposed law on zero-hours contracts, Ukrainian MP Vadym Ivchenko told openDemocracy.

Nataliia Lomonosova, an analyst at Ukrainian think tank Cedos, warned that the two laws could further deteriorate an already difficult socio-economic situation for Ukrainians suffering from Russia’s military campaign.

According to the UN’s latest numbers, Russia’s invasion has led to at least seven million people becoming displaced inside Ukraine itself, which has been compounded by a severe economic crisis hitting families and individuals hard. At the same time, the World Bank has predicted that Ukraine’s economy will contract by 45% this year.

With these factors in mind, Lomonosova argued that Ukrainians have little choice or bargaining power when it comes to employers – the number of available vacancies is vastly disproportionate to the number of people now looking for work in the country. “People right now have no bargaining power, and trade unions cannot protect them,” she said.

Speaking to openDemocracy, Lomonosova expressed a fear that, as a result of the displacement, “many people will find themselves in the situation of Ukrainian migrant workers” in their own country – meaning, for instance, people will have little choice but to accept poor conditions and to be ever more dependent on their employers.

‘Window of opportunity’

A leading member of Zelenskyi’s party promised further liberalisation of Ukraine’s labour legislation earlier this month.

“These are draft laws that business is waiting for, draft laws that will protect the interests of all entrepreneurs. And workers, too, by the way,” wrote MP Danylo Hetmantsev on Telegram on 9 July.

“A worker should be able to regulate his relationship with an employer himself. Without the state,” noted Hetmantsev, who is head of the Ukrainian parliament’s finance committee.

“This is what happens in a state if it’s free, European and market-oriented. Otherwise, the country will be travelling with one leg on an express train to the EU, and with another inside a Soviet-era train going in the other direction.”

Ukrainian labour lawyer George Sandul previously told openDemocracy that MPs had used Russia’s invasion of the country as a “window of opportunity” in which to try to push through drastic changes to labour legislation.

Lomonosova, of Cedos, agreed with Sandul, arguing that deregulation and the stripping back of social guarantees was a long-term policy of the Ukrainian government even before the war, and was likely part of an effort to attract foreign investors.

She pointed to the fact that both of the laws passed this week date to an early attempt by the Zelenskyi administration and the ruling party to deregulate labour legislation in 2020-21. This attempt was beaten back as a result of a protest campaign by Ukrainian trade unions, a prospect now hard to imagine due to the war and martial law, Lomonsova said.

As she put it, the Ukrainian government and ruling party are also now increasingly talking about the fact that the state “cannot afford welfare, employment benefits or protection of labour rights” because of the war.

In contrast to the deregulation trend, Lomonsova says that there is clear support among the Ukrainian public for social democracy.

“Year on year, opinion surveys have shown that Ukrainians have strong social democratic attitudes, including in favour of welfare,” Lomonosova said. “They expect the government to protect their labour rights and offer a complete social package. Not even war can change this.”

Experts warn the proposed labour reforms, which the British Foreign Office has consulted on, could reduce Ukrainians’ rights at work

Zero-hours contracts

Under Ukraine’s new zero-hours legislation, employers who choose to use the contract option will be able to call up workers at will, though contracts must define the method and minimum timeframe for informing an employee of work, and the response time of the worker to agree or refuse to work.

The legislation also says people employed on these new contracts must be guaranteed a minimum of 32 hours’ work a month, and that the percentage of employees on zero-hours contracts at company can’t be more than 10%.

In its explanation of the law, the Ukrainian government stated that people involved in irregular work are currently employed “without any social or labour guarantees”.

Therefore, it says, zero-hours contracts – a term the government used – will help “legalise the work of freelancers, who mostly work on short-term projects and are not limited to working for a single client”.

Labour lawyer and activist Vitaliy Dudin told openDemocracy that, as a result of the economic crisis caused by the war, Ukrainians are facing ever greater “economic risks” and poverty – and this means that Ukrainian employers “will be able to radically reduce labour costs”.

The new contracts proposed under zero-hours legislation, he suggested, could also lead to two-tier workplaces, where employers offer secure jobs to loyal or non-unionised staff, while others face precarious employment or immediate dismissal for reasons manufactured by the employers.

This could affect workplaces with hundreds of workers, including public sector jobs at risk of austerity policies, such as hospitals, railway depots, post offices and infrastructure maintenance, Dudin said.

“This is a disastrous step towards precarisation,” Dudin said, and one that “calls into question the very right of Ukrainians who have been affected by the war to get a means of living”.

What happens after the war?

European trade union groups have long criticised the growing trend towards labour liberalisation in Ukraine since Zelenskyi and his political party, Servant of the People, came to power in 2019.

On 14 July, as rumours of a new vote on draft law 5371 spread, three European trade union confederations expressed their concern that the Ukrainian government and ruling party “continue to reject the EU’s values of social dialogue and social rights” with its labour liberalisation programme.

“We are strongly concerned about regressive labour reforms continuing after the emergency of war is over,” the unions’ letter said, claiming the reforms “go in the opposite direction to EU principles and values”.

Ukrainian parliamentarians have previously criticised draft law 5371 as a potential danger to the country’s integration into the European Union. Ukraine was granted EU candidate status in late June.

Both Ukraine’s 2014 Association Agreement with the EU and its 2020 Political, Free Trade and Strategic Partnership Agreement with the UK contain provisions on ensuring workplace protections – including against attempts to attract international investment.

László Andor, a former EU commissioner for employment, social affairs and inclusion between 2010 and 2014, told openDemocracy that he believed this new legislation suggested that Ukraine was going in a “completely different direction” from EU norms on decent work.

“This case is a big dose of opportunism,” said Andor, now secretary general of the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, a Brussels think tank.

“Ukrainian lawmakers need to understand better what the difference is between a continental European model and these moves towards a very precarious labour market.

“Ukrainian trade unions are not being listened to sufficiently. This would be elementary in the European Union.“

“There is an enormous amount of national cohesion in Ukraine, which the rest of the world admires,“ Andor continued. “But these moves, in my opinion, can also undermine national unity – something very much needed for resisting a foreign invasion.“

Proponents of the law consider Ukrainian trade unions' efforts at defeating labour liberalisation an attempt to “preserve their influence“, and that ILO conventions on workplace protections are “out of step“ with the modern labour market and the needs of small and medium-sized businesses.

While ruling party MPs have suggested that draft law 5371 will passed as a temporary, wartime measure, MP Mykhailo Volynets, a member of the same Batkivshchyna party as Ivchenko, argued “it is clear that no one will be able to undo this situation later” in a post on Facebook.

“The labour code will no longer apply, collective agreements will be eliminated, and even those mechanisms of employee protection that are in place today will not work. This is a brazen violation of international norms and standards in the field of labour,” he said.

[Reposted from Open Democracy, by Thomas Rowley and Serhiy Guz, 20 July 2022.]

Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine: Information on draft laws No 5371 and No 5054-1

The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine calls the Parliament not to adopt the Draft Law No 5371 “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts to Simplify the Regulation of Labor Relations in Small and Medium Enterprises and Reduce Administrative Burdens on Business.”

Draft Law No 5371 “On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts to Simplify the Regulation of Labor Relations in Small and Medium Enterprises and Reduce Administrative Burdens on Business” originally introduced and tabled in 2021, on May 12, 2022.

Despite the demands of the Joint Representative Body of Trade Unions, the International and ETUC, the ILO to withdraw from consideration the draft law No. 5371 "On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts on Simplifying the Regulation of Labor Relations in Small and Medium Enterprises and Reducing the Administrative Burden on Entrepreneurial Activity ", as contradicting European values, introducing extreme forms of liberalization of labor relations and discrimination by significantly restricting the labor rights and guarantees of millions of workers, the majority in the parliament put it on the agenda for July 9. But its consideration was postponed.

The legal department of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine highlights the most dangerous aspects of draft law No5371.

The initiators of draft law No. 5371 of April 13, 2021, which is quite similar to draft law No. 5388 ( failed voting by the Verkhovna Rada before), were initiated by Galina Tretyakova and deputies of the pro-government majority. On May 12 it was adopted by the Parliament of Ukraine in the first reading.

Draft Law No. 5371 proposes to introduce changes to the Code of Labor Laws of Ukraine and the laws of Ukraine " On Trade Unions, their Rights and Guarantees of Activity ", "On Leaves", and "On Labor Protection".

The draft law puts a huge array of labor relations beyond the frame of regulation of the Labor Code:

An exclusively contractual mode of regulation of labor relations is introduced:

  • for small and medium-sized enterprises with up to 250 employees
  • as well as between an employer and an employee whose salary is more than 8 minimum wages per month

The parties to the employment contract may at their "own discretion by mutual consent" regulate their relations in terms of:

  • emergence and termination of labor relations;
  • payment systems;
  • labor standards;
  • the amount of the salary, taking into account the maximum-minimum amount established by law;
  • allowances, additional payments, bonuses, rewards, compensation and guarantee payments;
  • norms of working hours and rest in compliance with norms of the total length of the working week;
  • duration of weekly rest;
  • other rights and guarantees.

This will lead to a deterioration of the conditions of the employment contract for the employee compared to the current legislation.

Trade unions were not involved in the development of draft law No. 5371, as representatives of employees as parties in social dialogue, which violated the Constitution of Ukraine and the laws " On Trade Unions, their Rights and Guarantees of Activity" and "On social dialogue in Ukraine".

Subsequently, the trade unions officially refused to participate in the finalization of draft law No. 5371 until the second reading, because no editorial amendments can change the general idea of ​​the draft law - the introduction of full, unrestricted employer's discretion in labor relations.

According to the conclusion of the Committee of the Parliament of Ukraine on Ukraine's Integration into the European Union, draft law No. 5371 weakens the level of labor protection, narrows the scope of labor rights and social guarantees of employees in comparison with the current national legislation, which contradicts Ukraine's obligations under the Association Agreement , and does not comply with European Union law, in particular EU Directives 89/391/EEC, 91/383/EEC, 91/533/EEC, 92/85/EEC, 97/81/EC, 1999/70/EC, 2003/88 /EU, 2009/104/EU and 2019/1152.

The technical comments of the International Labor Office on draft law No. 5371, which were prepared in order to support the process of social dialogue regarding the reform of labor legislation in Ukraine, contain the following generalized provisions:

  • excludes a significant part of the Ukrainian workforce from the frames of general labor legislation by establishing a parallel and less protected regime for employees employed in small and medium-sized enterprises, i.e. enterprises with no more than 250 employees;
  • allows for individual negotiations on labor rights, which are inalienable and not subject to review, and which are protected by the Constitution of Ukraine, international treaties ratified by Ukraine, as well as labor legislation of Ukraine;
  • provides an opportunity for the parties to the labor contract, using individual negotiations, to deviate in the direction of deterioration from the basic labor standards defined by the legislation;
  • provides for the possibility of the employer unjustifiably terminating employment relations and unilaterally changing the essential terms of the employment contract, which violates international labor standards and contradicts the general principles of European law and practice;
  • focusing attention on the principle of equality of parties to the contract, characteristic of civil law, significantly reduces the protective role of labor law in relation to employees of small and medium-sized enterprises.

According to the conclusions of technical experts of the International Labor Office, Draft Law No. 5371 does not comply with: ILO Conventions No. 132, No. 135, No. 158 and ILO Recommendations No. 85, No. 116, No. 166.

Granting the employer an unlimited right to unilaterally terminate the employment contract at his initiative (Part 2 of the new Article 498 of the Labor Code) outside the grounds specified in Article 40 and Art. 41 of the Criminal Code.

The employer will not have to justify the reasons for dismissal in any way, as it is not obliged by law. As a result, in case of violation of his rights, the employee will not be able to go to court, since the employer is not obliged to justify his decision to dismiss, even orally.

The draft law allows the employer to set different wages for employees for the same work, including different amounts of wages, allowances, supplements, bonuses, etc., and in the field of working hours - to set different conditions for involving employees in overtime work, on holidays, non-working days and weekends.

Also, draft law No. 5371 provides that employers will have immunity from inspections by the State Labor Inspectorate regarding working conditions regulated by individual labor agreements (which makes it impossible to monitor compliance with laws and obligations, in particular, on working and rest conditions, wages, social provision, safety and health at work, etc.)

The draft law eliminates the role of trade unions in the representation and protection of the labor rights of the employee by excluding the rule on granting the consent of the trade union to the dismissal of the employee at the initiative of the employer and others related to the representation and protection of the labor, socio-economic rights and interests of employees in relations with employers.

This contradicts the provisions of Art. 36 of the Constitution of Ukraine, ILO Conventions No. 87 "On Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize" and No. 158, which provides for conciliation procedures in case of dismissal of employees.

The individual regulation of labor relations envisaged by draft law No. 5371 will make it significantly more difficult for Ukrainian workers to exercise their constitutional rights to work, collective bargaining, strike, occupational safety, and unionization.

Also, the CEACR observes that a number of draft laws, including draft Laws Nos 5371, 5054-1 and 5161-1, also propose changes to labour legislation which could have an impact on the application of Conventions Nos 81 and 129.

The draft law No5371 is absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances, and frankly harmful during martial law, when workers are already significantly limited in their rights, but voluntarily put up with it temporarily, understanding their responsibility for preserving the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the state.

Letter from ITUC and ETUC to Zelenskyy

Letter from ITUC and ETUC to Ukrainian parliament

[Reposted from Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine, July 18, 2022.]