On 28 December 2019 the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine submitted to the Verkhovna Rada(Ukrainian Parliament) a draft labour law and two back up laws. This proposed legislation has been strongly criticized by Ukrainian trade unions and the international labour movement.
Concerns about the law developed before the draft became public. National trade union centres were not consulted when it was developed. Instead the government treated the text as a secret document. The proposed text was hidden from trade unions and the public. They only saw a copy because an “expert” leaked it.
Moreover, the government did not seek the assistance of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in the process of developing the new labour law. The ILO encourages governments to consult and fully involve workers’ and employers’ organisations in such processes as well as using international labour standards as guidance.
The national trade union centers organized public protest actions and called on the government to hold serious and good faith consultations with trade unions. The international labour movement also supported Ukrainian trade unions. The Pan-European Regional Council of the ITUC (PERC) called on the government of Ukraine to withdraw the draft and seek ILO technical assistance. Just days later, the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) pledged to raise the issue with the European Commission and Parliament as the draft law contradicts the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement.
However, despite all trade union efforts to bring the Ukrainian government to the table or real consultations on the draft labour law, the government seems to have focused on supporting Big Capital and luring investment, while ignoring the human cost and consequences for workers and democracy.
The proposed labour law includes 99 articles and contains provisions to allow employees to be dismissed without cause and with short notice, enables short-term individual labour contracts, including zero-hours contracts, and long, poorly compensated working hours. It also weakens social protection guarantees, including maternity protection. The draft will be a step backwards for the individual and collective rights of workers. In case this law will not pass, two back up laws were prepared to ensure that amendments to the current legislation would secure labour reform.
“This is the worst New Year “present” the government could make to its own people. This new law violates international obligations to combat poverty and protect the human rights of Ukrainian people for decent lives and decent work. It also expands considerably the ability of employers to manage enterprises without respecting the human rights of workers, including their trade union rights. The BWI and affiliates with over 12 million members around the world stand together with Ukrainian workers in their fight against neo-liberal attacks on the labour rights,” said Coen van der Veer, the BWI European Regional Representative.
Ukrainian trade unions plan to organize further protest actions in January, including demonstrations in Kiev on the 15th and 16th. They seek to bring the government to the table and have real and serious discussions of labour law changes before, not after, the go into effect. They will also appeal to President Volodymyr Zelensky to open up the process. If these attempts fail, the trade unions are prepared to launch a full-fledged national campaign, which could include industrial action.
Commenting on the situation in Ukraine, BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson said, “We are very concerned about proposed labour law changes in Ukraine and fully support the position of PROFBUD and the rest of the trade union movement. There are serious faults in the process and in the substance of the laws. Laws of such importance to workers and their trade unions should never be developed in secret. Open and transparent processes are the essence of democracy. The substance of the draft laws should not totally disregard or ignore international labour standards, including some which have been ratified by Ukraine. There is time to fix these changes. We urge the government to do so.”