Ukrainian unions fight against liberalization of labour laws

In March, the Ukrainian parliament passed wartime legislation that severely curtailed the ability of trade unions to represent their members, introduced ‘suspension of employment’ (meaning employees are not fired, but their work and wages are suspended) and gave employers the right to unilaterally suspend collective agreements. A group of Ukrainian MPs and officials are now aiming to further ‘liberalise’ and ‘de-Sovietise’ the country’s labour laws. The trade unions are convinced that the result of the adoption of this bill as a whole will be the destruction of the balance of interests of the parties to the employment contract and the formalization of opportunities for absolute dictation of the employer in relation to the employee.


The Russian invasion has caused enormous problems


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.


New law in March reduces the rights of workers


The new law, which was passed in March, 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.


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.


Fear that the Russian invasion will be used to deregulate labour laws


The unions are concerned that Ukrainian officials are using Russia’s invasion to push through a long-awaited radical deregulation of labour laws that curtail employees’ rights on working hours, working conditions, dismissal and compensation after dismissal, and increases employers’ leverage over their workforce.


A group of Ukrainian MPs and officials are now aiming to further ‘liberalise’ and ‘de-Sovietise’ the country’s labour laws. Under a draft law, people who work in small and medium-sized firms – those which have up to 250 employees – would, in effect, be removed from the country’s existing labour laws and covered by individual contracts negotiated with their employer.


The proposed new labour law, Bill 5371, was originally registered in April 2021. But last week, Ukraine’s parliament supported it for the first time – opening the way for it to be written into law.


The bill’s authors argue that employment relations in Ukraine “are still regulated by the outdated Labour Code, adopted back in 1971 and developed under the conditions of the Soviet administrative-command economy”.


As part of this problem, they claim, Ukraine’s small and medium-sized businesses don’t have satisfactory legislation for their development. The “outdated, economically inadequate methods of state regulation of labour relations in Ukraine” impact the country’s private and public sectors.

To fix this, the draft law will introduce individual contracts for people who work at small and medium-sized businesses, and give Ukrainian employers the right to fire employees without any reason. The latter is currently strictly prohibited in the current labour legislation. It also plans to “reduce the bureaucratic burden on labour relations and business entities”.


Trade unions warn against the new proposal


The largest trade union confederation FPU warn the MPs against wrong decisions. They are convinced that the result of the adoption of this bill as a whole will be the destruction of the balance of interests of the parties to the employment contract and the formalization of opportunities for absolute dictation of the employer in relation to the employee.


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 the Ukrainian unions, in the current military environment, will be able to block this bill or achieve significant changes before the second reading takes place.


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.


In the open letter the unions say that they "demonstrate our continued commitment to social dialogue, an integrated approach to labor law reform through the preparation and adoption of a new Labor Code of Ukraine, which would take into account international norms and social standards set by ILO conventions and European Union legislation... We call on the people's deputies of Ukraine to defend the European choice of the Ukrainian people and not to vote for the project № 5371!"



Souces: Zcomm, openDemocracy, FPU