A report from the Kyiv organization Social Movement about the growing opposition to the government’s attempt to satisfy the demands of domestic and foreign owned big business for a cheaper and more pliant Ukrainian labour force.
No less than twenty cities experienced the wave of anger on 30 January against the government’s antisocial actions, in particular its draft legislation “On Labour”. The decision to carry out a national mobilisation was adopted at the Trade Union Forum on 16 January, to which Social Movement’s members were also invited.
Where did these actions take place?
Social Movement, which unites trade union activists from both the Federation of Trade Unions and the Confederation of Free Trade Union took part in the protest actions in Kyiv, Kryiy Rih and Lviv. The trade unions carried out big actions also in Dnipro, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhia, Uzhorod, Kramatorsk, Myrnohrad, Mariupol, Mykolaiv, Kherson, Chernihiv, Sumy, Vynnytsia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Slavutych and other towns and cities.
In Kyiv, thousands of protesters filled the road alongside the Cabinet of Ministers building. Trade union activists together with the young leftists chanted anti-capitalist slogans: “The law on labour is exploitation”, “Labour under capitalism seriously damages your health”, “Trade unions across the world oppose parasites in power”, “Don’t work till you die for their millions”. A banner carried by Social Movement activists and sympathisers, which read “Even coronavirus will die from such work”, made the point that the parliament’s bill No. 2708 threatens to undermine the health of workers complely. After all, the continual stress from the risk of dismissal and the unlimited increase in work rates and targets will exhaust anyone’s strength.
Why is the public against this draft legislation?
We should underline the fact that this legislation does not solve a single problem which concerns the ordinary worker, but only aggravates it even more.
1. The low level of pay. Wages here remain the lowest in Europe. Rather than encourage the employers to pay decent wages, the state has decided to cut them even more. Pay for overtime work and work on weekends and holidays has been reduced from 100% of the hourly rate to 20%. You will be able to collect wages that are in arrears only one year after the arrears have been formally acknowledged. According to bill No. 2708, public or private employers whose credit worthiness is guaranteed by a third party are not compelled to clear wage arrears they owe to their employees, although the government did promise this would be in the legislation..
2. Discrimination. Employers today discriminate against vulnerable categories of workers. Mothers, people with disabilities and students are regarded as unable to fully commit themselves to their jobs. The legislation permits employers to sever all relations with such “unnecessary” workers just by paying them a modest compensation.
3. The critical state of labour protection. The absence of legal grounds and limits for overtime work will lead to over-exploitation. New enterprises will start working without the consent of the State Labour Inspectorate. Workers in hazardous industries are not guaranteed additional leave.
3. Workers’ lack of rights before their employers. The grounds for concluding fixed-term contracts, particularly with journalists, will be expanded. Where a job is created as a result of a proposal by an employee, the said employee will not have to be formally dismissed if the job is terminated: it will simply be enough to withdraw the job from him or her. The procedure for dismissal will not include the removal from the records of explanations and reprimands for the dismissal, which at the moment can still be challenged.
5. Informal employment. The radical lowering of fines will certainly not encourage employers to come out of the shadow economy. The fine for not allowing an inspector, who is looking for informal workers, on to the work site will be reduced to one sixth of the present fine. At the same time, the workers themselves will hardly be eager to secure formal terms of employment: their rights in case of dismissal will differ very little from workers who have been taken on “by verbal agreement”.
Around fifteen thousand people took part in the January 30 protests all across Ukraine. That’s an army of people united in anger against the antisocial, neoliberal policies. The participants in these protests, it would seem, will not be satisfied by piecemeal concessions. The wave of protest cannot be stopped simply by withdrawing the draft legislation No. 2708. The people demand the complete overhaul of the system, including the resignation of the government.
Who can the populist majority [the parliamentary majority held by Servants of the People] put forward to stand against today’s puppets of capital, who are tearing themselves apart over their desire to appease the Ukrainian oligarchs on the one hand and the International Monetary Fund on the other? Another set of minister-capitalists with the same disrespect for working people as the present ones?
There is no new “political class”. The crisis will continue. Therefore, the populace should start thinking now: are they ready to take their own destiny in their hands and put forward people from their own midst to replace the oligarchs’ politicians? What can be the plan for change? The Social Movement reminds you of the list of urgent demands: end the offshoring of profits to tax havens, remove oligarchs from control of the state, expand civil and social rights, introduce a moratorium on neoliberal reforms. A further consolidation of our forces is needed to realise these logical demands.
Translation by Marko Bojcun