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Ukraine Labour Reform attacks workers

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Herbert Claro and Pavel Polska

The aggression of the Russian government claims, daily, thousands of Ukrainian lives, as the hardships of working people and the harassment of the invading troops multiply. While most of the well-to-do sectors of society have taken refuge abroad or in other regions far from the occupied or combat zones, the working class finds itself in the front line of the trenches facing the occupiers. In this context, the malice of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie and its political representatives, who take advantage of the war to “legislate” attacks on labour rights, is outrageous and unacceptable.

At the beginning of March, the Ukrainian parliament introduced a bill with changes in labour relations under martial law: draft Law No. 7160, “On the Agreement of Labour Relations under Martial Law.” The law was passed in parliament on March 15. And on March 23, Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, signed it.

The law is a blatant aid to the bosses and multinationals to respond to the “challenges during the war,” which introduces alterations in the country’s labour law, allowing more flexibilisation and taking away workers’ rights.

Nothing new

This is nothing new. Successive Ukrainian governments (including Kuchma, Yuschenko, Yanukovych) have attempted to change labour laws since the early 2000s, often in the face of union mobilisations. At the beginning of 2020, the Ministry of Economy tried to make the labour law more precarious. 

The proposal of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie, supported and advised by imperialism, was to create a neo-liberal model of precarisation of labour with the justification of attracting investments of European and Russian multinational companies, deepening a characteristic of the Eastern European region regarding the supply of cheap labour. A strong campaign by the trade unions to resist the changes in the labour laws was carried out, and the government backed down.

The Minister of Economy changed tactics and presented the reform in parts to break the workers’ resistance. During the pandemic, there were attempts at small changes in the labour law clauses. Now, as a result of the war against Russia, the bourgeoisie and the government presented more flexibilisation measures.

The Ukrainian government attacks workers rights amid armed conflict driving thousands of people from their homes, creating one of Europe’s most significant refugee crises since World War II, and the death of young people and workers resisting on the front lines.

While the workers are voluntarily resisting in cities and regions to fight the invaders, suffering bombardments, hunger, and other atrocities, the government approved measures to save the income of the bourgeoisie and the interests of multinational companies.

Onslaught on workers rights

The March 15 law, Bill No. 7160, approved the deregulation of certain conditions of labour relations during martial law to avoid harming enterprises during the conflict. It directly affects workers in the sectors involved in evacuating people, medical assistance, factory workers, and energy/power.

The bill also contains an article on the temporary suspension of an employment contract, freeing companies to carry out layoffs. If the area where the company is located is under attack, it can suspend the employment contract on its initiative without two weeks’ notice. The management of the railroad company was directed to prepare a list of workers to be suspended due to the low usage and even to block the railroad tracks due to the conflict.

Employers will be able to enter into labour contracts directly with the worker. Furthermore, the text of the law states that such a direct labour contract with the worker may be made in writing or orally. The law also gives the employer the right to transfer an employee to another employment not stipulated by the labour contract without their consent (except for transfer to work in areas where there is direct conflict with the occupation forces).

If it is impossible to pay wages due to hostilities, payment of wages may be suspended until the company’s ability to perform its main activities is restored.

The law allows an increase in the working week of up to 60 hours, and for employees with a reduced workday of 36 hours per week (the case in most large factories and plants), the hours may be increased to 50 hours per week; the employer determines the starting and ending time of the daily work. In addition, the weekly rest period may be reduced from 48 to 24 hours.

Women (except those pregnant or nursing a baby under one year of age) may be hired for heavy labour or work involving harmful or dangerous working conditions and subway work.

The law also makes a direct attack on union rights. The union’s consent will not be necessary to suspend a labour contract on the employer’s initiative. Employers are also exempted from their obligation to pay contributions to unions.

The anti-worker law written by the bosses and its concrete application in workers lives

We have consulted with experienced union leaders and independent labour activists about the nature and effect of this law. They have told us that they are now facing more terrible attacks and greater threats than those posed by the newly passed law.

As we read in an article published on the site of the Ukrainian socialist organisation Sotsyalnyi Rukh: “Thousands of engineering workers who volunteered or joined the Territorial Defense Forces are dissatisfied with these changes in the law. The employers’ stance seems cunning: but Article 9-1 of the Labour Code of Ukraine gives them the full right to establish better working conditions compared to the new legislation.”*

These comrades clearly understand that this law is not surprising, coming from this parliament and government representing big business and foreign corporations. But at the same time, they assure us that in the increasingly generalised arming of the organised workers, the attempts to concretise these measures on the part of the bosses will cause a social outbreak that transforms the war against the invaders into civil war. And it is this correlation of forces between the classes that the bosses, for now, are concerned about. And they have cited examples of multinational companies that have shown themselves to be cautious and to seek “dialogue” to “clarify the scope of the measures” to be applied according to the new law.

No to labour reform in Ukraine! Unrestricted support to all workers who resist!

The “Sotsyalnyi Rukh” website appeals to the trade unions to respond to the bosses’ actions, that increases social tension by restricting the workers their guarantees. In the same way, the international labour movement must repudiate the Russian aggression that today is taking place from the invasion of territories in Ukraine; however, it must also remain independent and fight alongside the Ukrainian workers against the attacks of their government in the service of the oligarchs and the imperialist multinationals.

It is unacceptable that, amid the conflict, where important victories are only won through the resistance of the youth and workers on the battlefronts, they are suffering an attack such as this labour reform. Many workers in important sectors such as education, public employees, mining, engineering, and power generation, are directly involved in the resistance. Workers taking up arms or helping in logistics and infrastructure are suffering the direct consequences of the horrors of war without knowing if they will have guaranteed wages and jobs. The Zelensky government must ensure from the Ukrainian state all the living conditions of the working class, which is the fundamental pillar of the resistance and the mainstay of the war economy, with an immediate moratorium on foreign debt payments to the usurers of the IMF.

The international labour movement must denounce this labour reform in Ukraine and demand its immediate repeal, as well as the guarantee of job stability and the payment of wages. And support the demand for a moratorium on foreign debt. During the occupation, those who must pay are the bourgeoisie and imperialism, with the expropriation of all private enterprises in the country to ensure income, consumer goods and infrastructure for the struggle of resistance to the occupation.

To attack the workers is to help weaken the resistance and, thus, to be accomplices of Putin and the Russian oligarchy amid the invasion!


Article based on testimonials and articles by:

Yuri Samoilov, chairman of the local trade union of Independent Miners and Metallurgists of Kryvyi Rih

Maksym Shumakov – Sotsyalnyi Rukh (Social Movement)

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