By Serhiy Guz
March 20, 2022 — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal reposted from openDemocracy — Ukraine’s proposed new law to deregulate labour rights, which the government sees as part of the combined effort to thwart the Russian invasion, has set the administration at odds with the country’s trade unions.
There are fears that the new law, which has been approved by parliament but is yet to be signed into law by President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, could continue after the war is concluded and lead to further exploitative working conditions in Ukraine.
The new law significantly curtails employees’ rights (on working hours, working conditions, dismissal and compensation after dismissal) and increases employers’ leverage over their workforce.
George Sandul, a lawyer with the Ukrainian workers’ rights NGO Labor Initiatives, told openDemocracy that the changes have “shocked trade unions and experts in the field”.
“Naturally, the way people work has undergone tremendous changes during the war prompted by Russia’s invasion,” Sandul explained. “But those employees who did not lose their jobs are working day and night for the army and the Ukrainian people to obtain victory.
“It is logical that any legislative regulation should serve one main goal: strengthening the defence capability of Ukraine. This bill […] clearly does not serve this purpose, instead it puts a spoke in the wheel.”
Sandul also fears that the new law – which was authored by Halyna Tretiakova, a member of President Zelenskyi’s Servant of the People party and head of the parliamentary committee for social policies and protection of veterans’ rights – will be extended beyond the duration of the war.
“There are big risks that after the end of the war, these provisions migrate to peacetime legislative initiatives – as we have repeatedly observed desperate attempts by Tretiakova and other lobbyists to seriously dismantle labour rights in Ukraine,” he said.
As a result of the Russian invasion, hundreds and thousands of Ukrainian business have been destroyed, have stopped work or their workers have been forced to flee from hostilities deep into Ukraine or abroad. Another number of enterprises and employees have ended up in territory occupied by Russian forces, where the implementation of Ukrainian labour legislation has been curtailed.
In addition, many Ukrainian enterprises are involved in defence activities coordinated by local military administrations, and their employees are sent to work that is not covered by regular employment contracts.
More rights for employers
The new law significantly increases the rights of both private business owners and state-run services and institutions while reducing the rights of employees.
If, as a result of the hostilities, a company is destroyed or can no longer function, it can dismiss employees with ten days’ notice (instead of two months) and the payment of one month’s salary.
It will also be permissible to dismiss employees who are on sick leave or vacation (but not if they are pregnant or on parental leave). Employers can increase the working week from 40 hours to 60, shorten holidays and cancel additional vacation days. They also have greater flexibility in hiring employees.
Employers can require employees to do other work not covered by their contract if it is necessary for defence purposes, as long as this work is not detrimental to their health.
One of the most controversial provisions of the bill concerns the ability to involve women in physically strenuous labour and work underground (in mines, for example), which is currently prohibited by Ukraine’s labour laws. This could lead to a violation of the 45th convention of the International Labour Organisation, dating from 1935, which prohibits underground work for all women.
Another new provision, which concerns the suspension of an employment contract, can be applied “in connection with the military aggression against Ukraine”. This temporarily relieves all parties from mutual obligations but does not terminate the employment relationship. The payment of wages and other guarantees and compensations is assigned to “the State committing military aggression” (meaning Russia), and not the employer.
In compensation, the government proposes to pay 6,500 hryvnia (around £170) to anyone who has lost their job because of the hostilities – but this payment is only a third of the average salary in many regions currently affected by the war. And the process by which employees are to receive compensation from the aggressor country is far from clear.
“Right now, for everyone who still has a job and is working on the home front towards Ukraine’s victory and the viability of the economy, it is extremely important to have at least minimal guarantees on labour rights and, as far as possible, to be confident they will be able to buy bread,” said Sandul. “The deregulation of these guarantees is extremely harmful.”
The new law also gives employers the right to cancel collective labour agreements, and significantly limits the rights of trade unions, reducing their role to one of “civilian oversight” of the new law.
The main right for employees is that, if they are facing a threat of active fighting or are unable to fulfil their duties, they can resign immediately (and do not have to give the 14 days’ notice currently required). But this right can only be exercised if their work is not related to defence or military operations.
The bill was adopted by the Ukrainian parliament without being considered by committees or discussed by MPs, but could still be vetoed by the president.
A trade union spokesperson, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that “a joint representative body of trade unions opposed this bill”. He refused to criticise the bill publicly, for fear of reprisals. He explained that, in wartime, trade unions would not oppose the changes, which, he hopes, will be temporary.
However, there are concerns that the bill will be the basis for a more radical transformation of labour and trade union legislation. Several months prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the parliamentary committee for social policies and the Ministry of Economy made equally radical proposals to change labour law in favour of employers, and to significantly restrict the rights of trade unions.
As openDemocracy reported last October, the British Foreign Office was embroiled in a scandal over its advice to the Ukrainian government on how to push new labour legislation through parliament.
The leaked plan, marked with the logo of the British Embassy in Kyiv, noted that the proposed reforms were unpopular and recommended that the Minister of Economy “make its message easier and more emotional” in order to convince the Ukrainian public. With the UK’s support, the Ukrainian government has been pushing for the liberalisation of labour legislation, claiming it would make the country more attractive to investors and tackle informal employment.
Sotsyalnyi Rukh: Veto project 7160! Protect working people!
March 16, 2022 — A draft law has been placed before the Parliament of Ukraine which would make a sweeping attack on workers rights. At a time when Ukrainian trade unions and the wider working people are mobilised in popular resistance and organisation of mutual aid it is a slap in the face to their courage and sacrifice. Such measures will transfer the burden of war from the richest to the working majority. They must be rejected.
The Social Movement calls on the President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky to veto the draft Law of Ukraine “On the Organization of Labor Relations in Martial Law” (7160) due to its inconsistency with the Constitution and the principles of the welfare state
On March 15, 2022, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine approved the draft Law of Ukraine “On the Organization of Labor Relations in Martial Law” 7160 (hereinafter – the Draft). It is assumed that for the period of martial law, the provisions of this document will take precedence over the provisions of labor law. Referring to the need to adapt labor legislation to the conditions of war, he expands the capabilities of employers through workers’ rights.
Certain restrictions on rights during the war are inevitable. Achieving a balance between human rights and a nation struggling for its existence is not easy. However, a compromise between the social partners and democratic principles should be the guiding principle. It seems that the law was passed without taking into account these safeguards against abuse.
The main conventions of the International Labor Organization in the field of human rights provide a number of rights on such issues as equal working conditions and the rights of trade unions and workers, derogation from which is unacceptable during a state of emergency; derogation from other rights is permissible, but only to the extent necessary in view of the severity of the situation (paragraph 68 of the 1985 Syracuse Principles).
Restrictions imposed to protect the public interest must be proportionate to the achievement of the objective pursued. The project is designed to strengthen defense capabilities, but establishes the possibility of exploitation of workers at enterprises of any industry throughout Ukraine. In other words, the emergency rules provided by it can be used not to carry out work in the interests of defense, but to increase the profits of the owners.
The biggest concerns are the rules on:
1) the possibility of deterioration of significant working conditions without compliance with the two-month notice period (Article 3 of the Project);
2) dismissal of an employee during the period of temporary incapacity for work and leave, as well as dismissal of trade union members without the consent of the trade union committee (Article 5 of the Draft);
3) increase of the maximum duration of the working week to 60 hours and reduction of the time of uninterrupted rest to 24 hours (Article 6 of the Project);
4) opportunities to involve pregnant women and women with young children in night work in case of “extreme necessity”, as well as the abolition of the rule on reducing the duration of work at night (Article 8 of the Project);
5) the right of the employer to refuse to grant leave if the employee is involved in the performance of work on facilities related to critical infrastructure (Article 12 of the Project);
6) suspension of the employment contract in connection with the military aggression against Ukraine, which excludes the possibility of his work (Article 13 of the Draft).
A number of restrictions go beyond the limits set by the Decree of the President of Ukraine on the imposition of martial law in Ukraine № 64/2022. This Decree allows for the restriction of the rights provided for in Articles 30 – 34, 38, 39, 41 – 44, 53 of the Constitution. However, the legislative initiative also restricts the rights provided by the following articles of the Constitution of Ukraine:
– Article 24 – guarantee of legal protection of motherhood, which includes the provision of benefits to pregnant women and mothers. The project allows the involvement of these categories of women in night work;
– Article 36 – citizens have the right to participate in trade unions in order to protect their labor and socio-economic rights and interests. The project allows to dismiss trade union members without the consent of trade unions;
– Article 45 – everyone has the right to rest. The project increases the duration of work (especially at night), allows dismissal during vacation, and leave at critical infrastructure facilities becomes optional;
– Article 48 – the right to an adequate standard of living for oneself and one’s family. The project will legalize the suspension of the employment contract, which could deprive citizens of their livelihood.
It should be emphasized that the rights provided for in Article 24 of the Constitution cannot be restricted at all (Article 64 of the Basic Law).
Increasing the burden on workers does not compensate for the loss of the economy, but will make workers more vulnerable in relations with the employer. In the speeches of the President of Ukraine there was a call to the working people to do their job 100%. However, the approved Project increases the length of the working week by 20 hours, ie will force many to work by 150%.
According to the NGO Social Movement, restrictions on labor rights can be avoided by achieving legitimate goals in other, more equitable ways. To ensure the defense of Ukraine, it is necessary to confiscate the property of Ukrainian oligarchs on the grounds of public necessity. The capitals of Ukrainian oligarchs must work for the economy! The main goal of the policy at this stage is to unite society in counteracting Russian aggression and to preserve the rights of the affected people as much as possible. Ukraine’s economy will definitely be revived at the expense of state support, proper organization of work and decent wages.
Therefore, in view of the above,
WE ASK YOU:
to veto the Law of Ukraine “On the Organization of Labor Relations in Martial Law” (Bill 7160) adopted on March 15, 2022 in connection with the inconsistency of its provisions with Articles 24, 36, 45, 48, 64 of the Constitution of Ukraine and the principles of the welfare state .
March 16, 2022
Vitaliy DUDIN ,
Chairman of the Board
of the Social Movement NGO