Tensions continue to mount following the attack by Russia on Ukrainian navy ships on the Sea of Azov on 25 November. The Kremlin announced on Monday that it was sending further fighter to the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Putin’s aggression has had an impact inside Ukraine with the government having declared martial law in a number of regions. We publish below an analysis of the implications for workers rights by the leading Ukrainian labour lawyer Vitaliy Dudin, written before the latest increase in tensions. Dudin is also of the NGO Social Movement (Соціальний рух). This followed by a statement by Social Movement.
MARTIAL LAW AND LABOUR RIGHTS
Despite a relatively short period of martial law (30 days), significant efforts will be needed to restore the normal course of the democratic process. The bill No. 9338 provides for the possibility of suspending the constitutional norms. Introduction of curfews, preventive detentions, restrictions on freedom of speech, strikes, and peaceful assembly are of the greatest concern. We do not rule out the emergence of some new legislative initiatives that would limit social and civil rights under the cover of a new legal regime. Article 43 of the Constitution is also limited. What rights does this article cover?
– Everyone has the right to appropriate, safe and healthy work conditions and to remuneration no less than the minimum wage as determined by law.
– The employment of women or minors on work which is hazardous for their health is prohibited.
– Citizens are guaranteed protection from unlawful dismissal.
– The right to timely payment for labour is protected by law.
In 1981 in Poland, on the plea of martial law, the activities of Solidarność trade union were banned. This led to the escalation of conflict, and the International Labour Organization critically assessed this situation.
It should be emphasized that martial law does not increase manageability. The mechanism enables creation of military administrations under President’s control. It is these bodies that will impose restrictions in certain regions.
In addition, the investors, whose benefit is allegedly of a deep concern of Ukraine’s authorities, would get a negative signal, since the confiscation of property is allowed and the law on the right to engage in business is suspended.
We note the increased appetite of an imperialist predator embodied in the Russian Federation, which was reflected in the establishment of control over the Sea of Azov. It appears that, despite the systematic tension in relations with Russia, at the moment the escalation of the conflict has stopped, therefore the grounds for the introduction of the martial law are not obvious. We do not wish it upon ourselves to believe that Ukraine would be trapped by the Kremlin authorities.
HOW MARTIAL LAW THREATENS THE RIGHTS OF WORKING PEOPLE
THE VERKHOVNA Rada has passed Law No. 9338, which introduces martial law in 10 regions of Ukraine for 30 days. The presidential decree that was passed by parliament implies that rights defined by a series of articles in the Constitution can be curtailed. Social Movement calls on citizens not to panic, but to be on the lookout for abuses and attempts by the ruling class to restrict the civic and social rights of Ukrainians.
1. Despite politicians’ promises, martial law does provide grounds to restrict freedom of assembly. Thus, working men and women will not be able to defend their rights.
Despite the legal ambiguities, it is our opinion that introducing martial law is a threat to the right of peaceful assembly. The president’s decree allows for limiting the freedom to assemble, protest and strike, although the way these will be limited is not defined.
Article 8 of the “Law on the Legal Status of Martial Law” gives to military commanders or military governments, if one is created, the power to establish concrete restrictions on freedom of assembly. So the military can choose to establish these restrictions or not, as it sees fit.
Local bureaucrats will ignore the fact that the president promised not to restrict these rights. If the police are granted an unconstitutional order to disperse a peaceful protest, then they are supposed to act on their “best judgment” as to what the law means.
We are also afraid that the government will overstep the boundaries it established here. We have already seen how the state apparatus oversteps the boundaries of its own laws. For example, after the “special period” was declared, protests near the presidential administration building were forbidden; even walking by the administration building has been restricted for almost five years.
The “Law on Decommunization” marked the beginning of a war on all socialist symbols (including renaming streets named after people who weren’t even affiliated with the Soviet government and never had official positions in the USSR) and left-leaning organizations, and the red-baiting atmosphere made it easier for those on the far right to justify their constant attacks on leftists, union organizers and human rights activists.
After the “Law on Sanctions” was passed, the government took measures that the law didn’t provide for, blocking social media, for example.
2. Martial law stalls the discussion of various social and economic problems. Many problems are not solved until citizens start to protest.
The example of miners in western Donbas is especially illustrative. Parliament introduced restrictions on free expression in regions where there are already massive wage arrears.
Evidence suggests that workers across Ukraine will be forced to avoid active protest measures for obvious reasons. We have received information about retaliations against protesters opposed to urban densification in Odessa.
The introduction of martial law directly affects rail workers, since a special operations regime was introduced for them. Workplace protests against disgraceful working conditions such as work-to-rule strikes aren’t formally forbidden, but they are increasingly risky. Moreover, some business owners will be able to refuse to fulfill the responsibilities outlined in collective bargaining agreements by framing the state of emergency as an “act of God.”
Increasing state control in the context of injustice will only increase social tension. Stability can only be guaranteed by immediately directing funds toward repaying stolen wages and meeting citizens’ needs.
3. Ukraine needs peace, not martial law. War is the basic condition for restricting civil and social rights. The authorities’ attempts to forbid things divide Ukraine even further, instead of leading to the end of the war and the return of Donbas.
We object to the idea of reviewing the [already austere] federal budget for this year. Military and law-enforcement funding has already reached record highs, and increasing it at the cost of social spending is counterproductive. Moreover, calls to cut financing for health care look downright grotesque if we consider the potential danger to citizens’ lives and health.
We should look for a peaceful solution to the escalation of the conflict in the Kerch Strait because war always hits the most vulnerable parts of the population the hardest. Our priority should be the release of the 23 Ukrainian sailors kidnapped by the FSB and their ships, which is why we demand that the Russian government let them go.
But the Ukrainian authorities’ most recent initiatives endanger their own citizens while playing into the hands of the aggressive Russian ruling class, which is also interested in distracting its citizens’ attention from domestic problems such as the fallout from the inhumane pension reform and suppressing economic protests like the recent Kamchatka miners’ strike.
4. Ukraine needs social democratic, not neoliberal reforms. And it is necessary to overturn all limitations on freedom of speech (the decommunization law, the blocking of websites, the closure of media outlets and persecution of journalists, and the restriction of transportation industry strikes). It is unacceptable to talk about austerity while oligarchs’ assets remain unconfiscated and while hiding funds in offshore accounts is still legal.
5. We call on citizens to hold the government accountable, not let it infringe human rights and write to us about any abuses that take place. Any legal ambiguities should be interpreted in favor of the freedom to assemble and freely express one’s opinions. The bureaucrats’ tyranny and infringement on your rights can’t be justified by external aggression.
Translated by Kate Seidel