On 25 February, the Global Action Day to support the Ukrainian workers and their unions in their fight against neo-liberal labour reforms that were proposed by the government, BWI affiliates effectively mobilized. Over 30 BWI affiliates globally sent protest letters to the Ukrainian government and diplomatic missions, and, showed a RED CARD against the reforms via social media.
The Global Action Day was timed to coincide with the beginning of the high-level ITUC/ETUC mission to Ukraine, led by ETUC General Secretary Luca Visentini and ITUC Deputy General Secretary Owen Tudor. The mission was organised around the proposed labour law changes in discussions with trade unions, the government, unions, employers and others. The delegation objected to proposals that would have violated fundamental rights and conditions for the workers and rights protected by ILO Conventions ratified by Ukraine.
The problem was not just the contents of the reforms, but also way that they were developed; in secret without consultation of trade unions and employer organisations. During the final press-conference of the mission the ITUC and ETUC stated that the Ukrainian authorities had promised to reconsider new labour laws and will ensure that any future proposed legislation will be in line with ILO standards and the EU agreement with Ukraine. They also assured the delegation that there would be consultation before any changes are made.
“We will hold Ukrainian Ministers and politicians to account, so that they fulfil their pledges and promises to us, and we will ensure that the ILO and European Commission play their part in defining what needs to be done to make the draft legislation compliant with ILO standards and the EU Association Agreement,” said Luca Visentini, ETUC General Secretary.
The BWI affiliate in Ukraine, PROFBUD, has been actively campaigning against the proposed reforms since they learned of the initiative in 2019. If the new labour laws had been adopted by the Parliament, it would have been a disaster for the construction sector where there is already a very high level of informal employment. The government-proposed labour laws would shift many workers from secure employment contracts to short-term or zero-hour contracts. This would have rapidly expanded precarious work in the construction sector.
“The solidarity support demonstrated by the global labour movement with the Ukrainian unions is incredible. We would like to thank everyone who has been supporting us. We believe that this should be a clear signal to our government that workers are united and ready to fight for their rights. Together we have power,” said Vasyl Andreyev, PROFBUD President.
In commenting on the government’s changed position, BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson recognised the struggle of Ukrainian workers and their trade unions as well as the good and rapid response of BWI member organisations. He said,
“Even though there was little time to organise actions, BWI affiliates rallied in support of the fight of Ukrainian unions. That showed, once again, that an attack on workers and their unions in one country is an assault on all of us. The government has changed its approach, but BWI and PROFBUD will remain vigilant so that Government promises become reality. Any new reform proposals should fully respect not only fundamental ILO standards and ratified Conventions but take into account other ILO standards. They should be good for workers, respect human rights, support the economy and social justice and be agreed in democratic processes, including with the full involvement of social partners in their preparation.”