Ukraine Could Abandon Key Labour Principle as Part of EU Drive

John here. In the midst of the current conflict, somehow Zelensky’s National Council for the Recovery of Ukraine from the War has found time to work on dismantling the collective bargaining structures in the country and undermining workers’ rights. However and whenever Ukraine eventually emerges from the conflict, it seems certain that Ukrainian workers will have fewer rights and protections under law.

By Thomas Rowley, lead editor at oDR, and Serhiy Guz, editor-in-chief of the Clever City Kamianske newspaper and former head of the Ukrainian independent media union. Originally published at openDemocracy

The Ukrainian government intends to abandon its long-held principle of consulting trade unions and employers’ associations over policy as part of the country’s drive to join the EU, draft plans for post-war reconstruction suggest.

It is backed up by remarks made by a key official to openDemocracy this week.

Outlines released by the National Council for the Recovery of Ukraine from the War, a body set up by president Volodymyr Zelenskyi, state that the Ukrainian government plans to move to a model of “non-interference of the state in dialogue between trade unions and employers”.

The existing system of consulting both unions and employers’ groups is referred to as the ‘social dialogue principle’. It is intended to foster interactions between the two strata in order to achieve a balance of interests in the economy.

Ukrainian labour lawyer George Sandul told openDemocracy that the “final goal” of the draft reconstruction plan was a “Mad Max-style dystopia” where “everybody will negotiate on their own without any rules”.

“These draft plans clearly state that the Ukrainian government is not interested in the principle of social dialogue at all,” Sandul said, explaining that social dialogue is “at the core” not only of International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions but also, somewhat confusingly, Ukraine’s association agreement with the EU.

The Ukrainian state, Sandul said, had a mixed record on supporting social dialogue before the Russian invasion, and was now “trying to get rid of” its commitments “even on paper”.

The ongoing war has had a profound effect on Ukraine’s economy, with the World Bank predicting that it will contract by 45% this year as a result of Russia’s invasion.

Nearly half of Ukraine’s businesses have stopped or nearly stopped their operations, according to a survey, published in June, by business consultancy Advanter Group. The draft reconstruction plan says that the unemployment rate is estimated to have risen above 30%, and wages across different sectors have fallen by 9% to 58%.

International Labor Organization ‘Outdated’

The news comes as a leading social policymaker in Ukraine criticised the approach of the ILO as “outdated” on the eve of a planned country visit by the UN agency, which was later cancelled.

The ILO, via its international conventions, promotes legally binding principles of workplace rights and social dialogue for governments, employers and workers around the world.

In an interview published on the Ukrainian parliament’s website on 28 July, Halyna Tretiakova, head of the parliamentary committee on social policy, claimed the ILO was a barrier to Ukrainians striking individual employment agreements and protecting their employment rights through more flexible means.

“People don’t want to negotiate their employment through collective agreements, but through civil law, royalties, author rights,” Tretiakova said.

“But the International Labor Organization, created in 1919, in the epoch of industrialisation, says no… [The ILO says] a person is economically dependent on their employer and should therefore come under Ukraine’s labour code, developed in 1971.”

Speaking to openDemocracy, Tretiakova expanded on her comments, saying that “international agreements” such as the ILO conventions “are part of our legislation”, but that the number of claims at the European Court of Human Rights against Ukraine for breaches of social and employment rights were “snowballing”.

“We have to re-examine the obligations of the state, and they have to match the capacity of the state at this specific historical moment,” she said. “To ensure the number of claims don’t rise, we have to ‘reset’ the labour code and [Ukraine’s] social model, which was not done during the country’s transition from socialism to a market economy.”

She added: “Whether this will require Ukraine leaving some forms of international agreements is a question for the executive branch, which will have to clearly define what we have funds for – and what we don’t.”

The ILO said it had planned an official visit to Ukraine in early August, “following an invitation by the [Ukrainian] government and social partners”. But the agency told openDemocracy it had cancelled the visit, due to “very heavy logistics… the prevailing security situation and high-level meetings that were pending confirmation”.

The ILO said everyone invited had shown “genuine interest” in meeting with the organisation’s head Guy Ryder, and “regretted when the visit was cancelled.”

But Mykhailo Volynets, head of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine, said that the cancellation of the ILO’s visit had “turned out nicely” for the Ukrainian parliament and government.

“It would have been very difficult for the authorities to meet with the ILO delegation after the latter’s criticism of recent draft labour legislation,” he said. The cancellation of the visit, Volynets added, allowed the ILO to avoid a public “slap in the face” by the Ukrainian parliament, which has ignored the UN agency’s recommendations to improve incoming labour laws.

New Legislation Attacking Workers’ Rights

Trade unions and business groups in Ukraine are currently believed to be lobbying Zelenskyi over new labour regulations, which require his signature before they become law.

The new law was introduced to parliament by Tretiakova and other MPs, and approved last month. It could move up to 70% of the country’s workforce – employees of small- and medium-sized enterprises – outside the scope of national labour law. The draft legislation has been heavily criticised by a joint EU-ILO project on “decent work” in Ukraine.

If the legislation is signed by Zelenskyi, employees will be encouraged to strike individual bespoke agreements with their employers – which is a direct breach of ILO principles.

According to the EU-ILO project, the legislation “appears to exclude a significant share of the Ukrainian workforce from… the general labour law through the establishment of a parallel and less protective regime”.

It will also institute the possibility of “at-will termination” of employment and “unilateral change by the employer of essential terms and conditions” of work, the project claimed. This is another breach of ILO principles.

Critics have previously claimed that deputies in the Ukrainian parliament have used Russia’s invasion, which has displaced millions of people inside and outside the country, as a “window of opportunity” to pass potentially controversial reforms.

Prior to the war, Ukrainian trade unions organised protests against attempts by the ruling Servant of the People party to cut back on workplace and trade union rights.

The draft reconstruction plan named Ukrainian workers’ “low loyalty to reforms” and the “active position of resistance taken by trade unions” as “key institutional restraints” to planned reforms.

An ‘Attractive’ Law to ‘Simplify Regulations’

Ukraine’s Ministry of Economy told openDemocracy that it is working on new legislation that will replace the country’s existing labour code, which was originally written in 1971 – and has been updated on numerous occasions since.

The new legislation’s aim, the ministry said, was to create an “attractive” labour law that would “simplify regulations, minimise state intervention in the regulation of employment and form a system of flexible protection”.

Under the future labour code, employees would have the “freedom to choose how to organise their employment together with active state control over minimum standards and conditions,” it said.

Tretiakova told openDemocracy that “Ukraine itself has an interest” in ensuring social dialogue principles are upheld.

“We don’t need pressure from abroad for this,” she said, noting that her parliamentary committee on social policy is in “constant contact” with a high-level body connecting Ukrainian trade unions and employers associations.

Sandul, however, was unconvinced.

“For years, unfortunately, the practice of social dialogue in Ukraine was quite inert,” he said. “But we have it on paper, and that’s just an engine waiting to be turned on.”

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  1. DJG, Reality Czar

    An interesting point about the International Labour Organization is that it was established in 1919 as part of the League of Nations. So it has a certain stature and weight — it preexisted the United Nations.

    There was a link a while back at Naked Capitalism that outlined these “changes” (selling out) of the Ukrainian workforce. Thanks for posting this article, which goes into more detail.

    A particularly telling detail throughout the piece is Tretiakova spouting claptrap:

    “People don’t want to negotiate their employment through collective agreements, but through civil law, royalties, author rights,” Tretiakova said.

    [She is deliberately not understanding the structure of work and of the labor force. Remind me: What portion of factory workers gets author royalties / rights? She’s trying to compare apples and eggs. The implication is that she wants people on “individual” / precarious contracts that suit only the employer. This, in the poorest country in Europe.]

    And there’s this:
    “We don’t need pressure from abroad for this,” Tretiakova said, noting that her parliamentary committee on social policy is in “constant contact” with a high-level body connecting Ukrainian trade unions and employers associations.

    Your job, and the parliament of Ukraine will decide, is to send loads of guns–to the tune of trillions of dollars. And, oh, keep ignoring the black sun buttons, the repression of the Russian language, the human shields, and the phenomenal, ingrained corruption.

    She’s the very picture of the Ukrainian bezzle.

    I await Tretiakova’s pix on the cover of Vogue.

    Ahhhh, fighting for democracy! What sacrifices we in the “Atlantic” must make to stomach the buncombe.

  2. Stephen

    There is precedent for countries in the middle of what was seen as a war for national survival spending energy on social and labour topics. The British Wartime Coalition initiated the Beveridge Report in June 1941 at a nadir of British / Soviet fortunes (we were allies of course) and it reported by late 1942, which was still not exactly a period when victory was fully certain.

    But the Beveridge Report was all about the war on “Want… Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness” to make sure that the conditions of the 1930s Great Depression would never recur. It established the framework of the post 1945 welfare state. This was intended to help motivate society that the war was worth fighting. It contributed to the wartime goals as much as it was intended for its own sake.

    What Ukraine is talking about here seems diametrically opposed to such goals. Hard to see how these changes will motivate society to fight the war, nor that they make much sense in such a country. If anything, Russia does seem to have these standards in place (no doubt there are readers who know for sure) and so developments like this would have a net negative effect on the motivation of the people who actually do the fighting. I guess they are simply not being told.


  3. Ignacio

    DGJ, the Mediterranean is just a pond that refills with Atlantic waters, should the countries there be treated accordingly by the Atlanticists it would just be following the rules of mother nature. /s

    And the Black Sea a prolongation of said pond.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar


      I now have a vision of a gigantic waterfall, the Niagara of Cádiz, as the cool waters of the Atlantic fill up the Mediterranean.

      To celebrate said Niagara, I will now go out and squander some money. It’s the only way.

  4. digi_owl

    Yep, all that matters is the “creative” class.

    And thus even the lowliest barista should see themselves as a self-employed entrepreneur.

    This is truly the malaise of our era.

  5. Mucho

    Worrying – but not surprising – news.

    I wonder how much legal-wiggle room the ILO-conventions – particularly (some of) the core conventions, such as nr. 87 and nr. 98, which pertain to Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention and the Right to collective bargaining respectively -, give for the government to implement changes contradictory to these conventions. I’m not familiar with the exact framework in Ukraine, but the state has a(n active) responsibility to ensure a suitable framework for collective bargaining in a material sense.

  6. Alan Roxdale

    Ukraine is being turned into some kind of social laboratory for neoliberalism. A smorgasboard of of exploitation for the oligarchs with the right connections. Sometimes I think Ukraine is a portent for what awaits the rest of the west.

    1. JohnA

      Yes, and had H Clinton won in 2016, the plan was for full speed ahead fracking and GMO crops in Ukraine.

      1. LawnDart

        I have a few excerpts from [dot] ru sources hanging in mod-land that illustrate how the Ukies are being subjected to an onslaught of full-spectrum neoliberalization.

        It seems a good idea to remind ourselves that most Ukrainians are “little people” just like us who have no little or no say or control over the matters of state that affect us.

  7. LawnDart

    New and Improved Ukraine! A true, neoliberal paradise. Keep in mind that this is only an experiment, a test, a small clinical trial– the real improvements will premiere in the USA after the traitors and rebels of Civil War II are vanquished.

    Kiev launched mass privatization in the context of military operations
    Natalia Prikhodko
    August 4, 2022

    Since the beginning of September, the Ukrainian authorities have decided to launch mass privatization in the country. The approved list includes about 420 enterprises. Among them, the first ones planned to put up for auction elevators and bakery plants-perhaps the most popular objects for today. Privatisation procedures were made private. Some experts linked this to the military situation, while others warned of the inevitability of abuses. As they determined, in the current circumstances, the government will have to act as a liquidation commission designed to help sell off still relevant state assets.

    Observers called the closed non-transparent nature of the proposed privatization procedures controversial. Recall that in the last days of July-the day after the government approved the list of 420 enterprises to be privatized – the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine approved a bill that provided for the simplification of relying schemes for the period of martial law. As a result, buyer transparency, property valuation, and inventory were canceled, and in general, it seemed that these changes were lobbied by the monopolists themselves… …earlier the authorities [were] criticized a lot for insufficient verification of participants and winners of auctions, and now they decided to make buyers completely anonymous.

    A different assessment of what is happening was given by the deputy of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine of the V-VII convocations Spiridon Kilinkarov. The day before, he told in his Telegram channel about the forced nationalization of the Novokramatorsky machine-building plant-without the consent of the owner. As a result, expensive equipment risks being sold out, and 8 thousand people may be left without work. Novokramatorsky zavod was considered a profitable enterprise with a profit of UAH 1.5 billion in 2020 and was provided with orders for 10 years ahead…

    Source: ng [dot] ru

    And in keeping with theme– a blast from the (recent) past:

    Land privatization: everything will end in disaster
    Igor Serdyukov
    17: 40 12.11.2019

    [a well-known human rights activist, Vladimir Chemeris, describes the scenario of land privatization.]

    “Opening a productive land market is not a way for Ukrainian citizens to exercise their property rights, but a way to take their property away from them. That is, a way to legitimize the transfer of public property into the hands of a small number of owners. Just as at one time voucher privatization was a way of concentrating industrial assets in the hands of large capital — both domestic and transnational. The result was the deindustrialization of Ukraine and its transformation into a raw material appendage with cheap labor.

    Ukrainian land will be bought up by large capital at the price set by the buyers. Farmers will be forced to accept a low land price due to a basic lack of finances. This fact, as well as non — economic methods that are now widely used in the agricultural sector — for example, raiding-indicates that land will be bought up at the lowest price. In addition, small farms will lose out in competition to large latifundist farms, go bankrupt and be sold.”

    Source: ukraina [dot] ru

  8. deplorado

    So, just to be clear, with its prevalent at-will employment, is the US not compliant or just not even a participant in the ILO conventions?

      1. digi_owl

        Big non-surprise there.

        President after president makes speeches and signs protocols, and then congress stuffs said protocols into a massive drawer where they end up collecting dust.

        Again and again one is reminded that the POTUS have very little real say on domestic issues. His only real power is to boss the marines around, and even that may be slipping.

  9. Acacia

    However and whenever Ukraine eventually emerges from the conflict…

    At the rate things are going, that may be primarily Russia’s call. Though if the remaining rump Ukraine (Ukrainlet?) in the West is the Nazi infested part, no doubt they’ll find a way to blame all this incoming neoliberal nastiness on the Russians.

    1. Yves Smith

      Medvedev is pushing for a a big time partition of western Ukraine, which would have the effect of making any remaining neo-Nazis mainly Poland’s and Romania’s problem (Hungary gets a bite too but my impression is of less, erm, politicized areas). If Medvedev gets what he wants, Ukraine = Greater Kiev.

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