The Verkhovna Rada, or parliament of Ukraine, took recent votes on a series of labor bills that would have severely damaging effects on Ukrainian workers already suffering from the wartime economic crisis.

1.) After postponing several attempts to conduct a second-reading vote on Draft Law 5371, parliament overwhelmingly passed the bill today with an amendment that it will only apply during martial law.  Among other provisions, the law eliminates collective bargaining rights for workers at any employer with 250 or fewer employees, and even allows such employers to ignore terms of existing collective agreements in individual employment contracts.  The President must sign the bill for it to become law.

Commenting after the vote, the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) Chairperson and MP Mykhailo Volynets stated the law “will lead to the violation of the rights of Ukrainian workers who are suffering from the war today and who are doing everything possible to help the country win the war and restore peace to the entire territory of Ukraine.  We won’t tolerate disrespect to workers’ rights, international labor standards, and European values.  We insist that the effectiveness of rebuilding Ukraine and its success in the future depends on the level of protection of workforce rights.”

2.) Yesterday, Parliament also passed a draft law, 5161, permitting all employers to hire up to 10% of their workforce on “casual” or “zero-hour” contracts.  Currently, as in most European countries, employers are required to follow legal requirements regarding minimum hours, and allowing short-term or temporary work only for job assignments that are proven to be of limited duration.  The new bill would allow 10% of employees to be assigned as little as 32 hours per month, and to be “on call” each day for all work assigned.  Again, the bill awaits the President’s signature.

An analysis by the SC-supported worker rights NGO, Labor Initiatives, states, “. . . on-call work is characterized by variable and unpredictable hours, short advance notice of schedules, significant fluctuations in working hours, and little or no input into work timing. Workers in on-call employment and casual arrangements typically have limited control over when they work, with implications for work-life balance and income security, given that pay is uncertain.”  

The introduction of such “casual” employment has been a long-time goal of certain members of parliament who have sought to push the balance of workplace rights toward employers.

3.) A third bill voted by parliament earlier this month, 7251, addresses payment of wages to those who left work to serve in the military.  The bill relieves employers from the responsibility to pay wages to those on military leave, transferring those payments to the state budget.  But as the state takes over these payments, the vast majority of such workers now in the military will also receive steep cuts in pay.  Ukrainian unions have already received a host of complaints from members currently in the military expressing dismay that they have received a cut in pay while defending the country.

4.) Two additional draft bills recently moved forward toward possible votes would confiscate property owned by the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU).  Nearly all these properties (health sanitoria, hotels, hostels, and training centers) have been converted to camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) during the war.  Over 300,000 Ukrainians have passed through union-owned IDP facilities since February.  Again, confiscating union-owned property has been a long-time goal of some political power brokers as they seek to take personal control of the property.  The FPU pointed out that these facilities were originally built using union dues, and were intended for the benefit of union members.  “We consider that the protected right of trade unions to freely undertake their programs and activities is interwoven, interdependent and interrelated with the right of trade unions to own property as a means  through which such programs and activities are delivered to their members.”

Those who have attempted to weaken worker and union rights in Ukraine for more than a decade have now seized upon the wartime crisis to push through these provisions which failed repeatedly prior to the war.  While promising steadfast commitment to the nation’s defense, Ukrainian unions stated strongly that the war should not be used as an excuse to gut worker rights, which will be critical to rebuilding the economy.  These laws also carry Ukraine further from European Union standards as the country applies for membership in the EU.

Report from the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine