Thursday, February 16, 2023

Ukrainian Workers Paying the Price of War

In Ukraine, as in any war, normal democratic practices such as strikes and the right to peacefully protest are suspended. However, it has not stopped at those.

In March, at the very start of the war, the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) passed a law — On the Organisation of Labour Relations During Martial Law — which meant that certain extreme forms of liberalisation and relaxation of labour rules became a legal reality. It included several provisions which fundamentally undermined the labour rights of those who had been working at the frontlines since the start of the invasion. By allowing employers to unilaterally cancel the provisions of collective agreements without justification, this law destroyed the foundations of trade unionism.

Another law, “On Amending Certain Legislative Acts of Ukraine on Optimisation of Employment Relations” was adopted in July 2022, released employers from the obligation to pay an average salary to employees mobilised for the defence of their country.

In the summer of 2022, the Verkhovna Rada passed a law substantially reducing the labour rights of those working for small and medium-sized enterprises (up to 250 employees). This law established a separate regime to regulate labour relations in these enterprises, where an individual employment contract was defined as the main document regulating labour relations. In other words, the employee had to personally negotiate all the specifics of their employment directly with the employer. Yet labour law was created precisely for the collective protection of workers because it is impossible to effectively negotiate all employment terms and conditions with massive corporations and the like.

Another innovation adopted during martial law was the introduction into domestic practice of “non-fixed-hour contracts,” known in the West as “zero-hour contracts.” This type of contract does not define standard working hours and the employee becomes a “call-to-action person.” In 2021, 1-in-5 Ukrainians worked in the informal sector, with no employment rights and no safeguards. The law is intended to regulate the work of freelancers, but in fact, it is applicable to any type of worker.

These legal changes contradict Ukraine’s ambitions of European integration. Article 296 of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU states:

“a Party shall not weaken or reduce the environmental or labour protection afforded by its laws to encourage trade or investment, by waiving or otherwise derogating from, or offering to waive or otherwise derogate from, its laws, regulations or standards, in a manner affecting trade or investment between the Parties.”

The war cannot be used to justify stripping workers of their rights.

A full-scale attack on Ukraine’s labour rights – Democracy and society | IPS Journal (

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