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Human rights in Ukraine – 2008. 15. THE RIGHT TO WORK

27.06.2009

[1]

1.  Overview

The right to work is a crucial socio-economic right and determines people’s opportunity to engage in work in order to ensure material well-being and personal development in conditions of freedom and dignity, economic security and equal opportunities.

The safeguarding of this right takes on particular importance in conditions of economic crisis, with rising unemployment and mass infringements of labour rights. The State has a vital role to play here and should take all measures possible to protect and enable the exercising of the right to work and all that is in its power to ensure respect for this right. Clearly the State’s economic possibilities do not enable it to provide work to all seeking it.

Poor protection of labour rights in certain spheres of the economy has contributed to a sharp increase in the number of unemployed. There is also a deepening territorial and branch-related disproportion in the number of those without work which further complicates the search for a job. We should also mention that unemployment benefit is very small and in no way sufficient for even minimum requirements.

By no means all measures taken by the State have been adequate and correct. We would mention, for example, the classification of rural dwellers with their own plots of land as employed which can be viewed as discrimination since these members of the population are effectively being denied their right to State assistance in difficult times. There is also a problem with employees supposedly “resigning” as opposed to being dismissed, with this depriving them of the right to unemployment benefit for the first three months.

The situation remains unsatisfactory as regards State-guaranteed remuneration with the minimum wage still less than the subsistence minimum and the number of those receiving such wages being fairly large. There are problems with payment of public sector employees on the basis of a single band scale. When the basic principles for the formulation of such a remuneration system are violated, the dependence of this system on minimum norms for remuneration is undermined.

There is also a problem with huge variations in the level of pay in State bodies. This spread is further escalated by a system of bonuses and supplementary payments which are dependent on the will of the management and are essentially a concealed form of payment to civil servants. Whether one receives such an extra payment and how large it is depends less on work efficiency than on loyalty to the management.

Problems are again arising with wage arrears especially in the production sphere. More and more enterprises and organizations owe their staff considerable amounts of unpaid wages with this leading to an increase in social tension.

A no less important aspect of labour rights is the ensuring of safe conditions of work. Unfortunately the number of industrial injuries remains high, especially as regards work-related illnesses. The situation is exacerbated by loopholes in legislation and the fact that many normative documents on labour protection being out of date. There is no document of a programme nature regarding labour protection.

2008 saw a significant increase in the number of infringements of labour legislation. According to estimates both from State bodies, and trade union organizations, almost 90% of employers breach labour legislation.  There are a lot of problems particularly with pay, working hours, time off and contracts. There are also a considerable number of violations of the labour rights of women and minors.

In this context trade unions should provide an effective mechanism for protecting labour rights. One must however note that trade unions have not become a force able to fight infringements by employers. There is a lot of conflict within the trade union movement, and there are a fair number of supposed trade unions which are either created or paid by employers themselves, and which are unable to defend workers’ rights.

2.  Safeguarding employment

A key aspect to ensuring the right to work is the use of all possible measures to ensure a high level of employment.  Obviously every country experiencing economic crisis is encountering this problem and choosing ways of dealing with it.

The percentage of people registered unemployed doubled from 1.8% in July 2008 to 3.2% by the end of January 2009.[2]  In the State Employment Centre they predict that the level of unemployment will reach 9% by the end of 2009 and around 3 million people unemployed will be seeking the assistance of unemployment services.[3]

 

The number of people registered unemployed, broken down by gender and into those living in urban or rural areas from 1999-2008рр.[4]

(at the end of the reporting period; in thousands)

 

total

 

Place of residence

women

men

urban

rural

1999

1174, 5

729, 6

444, 9

920, 9

253, 6

2000

1155, 2

730, 4

424, 8

863, 7

291, 5

2001

1008, 1

645, 6

362, 5

696, 7

311, 4

2002

1034, 2

665, 0

369, 2

610, 6

423, 6

2003

988, 9

627, 6

361, 3

539, 7

449, 2

2004

981, 8

619, 9

361, 9

514, 9

466, 9

2005

881, 5

535, 6

345, 9

428, 8

452, 7

2006

759, 5

459, 1

300, 4

353, 9

405, 6

2007

642, 3

385, 8

256, 5

296, 4

345, 9

2008

844, 9

465, 2

379, 7

418, 3

426, 6

 

As we see, the changes are not only in increased numbers, but in who is hit by unemployment. For example, the number of people registered unemployed increased sharply in urban areas (whereas previously there was considerably more unemployment in rural areas). One of the factors for this was the large number of job losses during 2008 in construction and some other areas of the economy where defence of labour rights is weakest and it is easier and quicker to get rid of staff. The fact that such a situation arose is yet more indication that the authorities did not use all measures available to them to deal with violations of labour legislation in these spheres.

There has also been a clear increase in unemployment amount women.

During 2008 there remained discrepancies between vacancies on the one hand, and professional and vocational skills available, as well as where the demand was, on the other. One sees sharp differences between regions, with the highest concentration of unemployed in the Cherkasy region (5.4%), and the lowest in Kyiv (0.7%)

It is important to note that the numbers of those registered unemployed do not fully represent the situation on the labour market. If one could add the people who have not registered at employment centres, or were unable to do so because of bureaucratic or artificial restrictions in legislation, the number of unemployed would be considerably higher. There are also a lot of people working part-time. According to figures from the State Department of Statistics, as of 1 March 2009 there were 570 thousand people on leave permitted and initiated by their employers, while 1.2 million people were working a shorter day, with this tripling the number of those effectively unemployed among the able-bodied part of the population.

 

3.  State aid for the unemployed

The size of the unemployment benefit is not sufficient to meet minimum conditions for survival. The minimum amount of unemployment benefit for people insured is 500 UAH (per month), while for those without insurance the figure is 360 UAH.[5]  These figures are even lower than the subsistence minimum[6] and the size of that is clearly insufficient to in any way support a person during difficult times.

It should be noted that at present there are legal norms in place which essentially contradict each other. The Law “On mandatory State unemployment insurance” stipulates that unemployment benefit cannot be lower than the legally established subsistence minimum. At the same time, the Law “On the size of contributions to some types of mandatory State social insurance” states that “on the basis of the capacity of the Mandatory State Unemployment Insurance Fund, unemployment benefit is set at no lower than 23% of the subsistence minimum for an able-bodied person”. And of course, State bodies go by this second law, ignoring the first.

At the end of 2008 some categories of the population lost their right to assistance, while for others it became much more difficult to get it or payments were deferred. For example, changes in legislation meant that people who have a land share (from when collective farms were dissolved – translator) were not eligible for assistance, while people leaving a job by mutual consent could only get unemployment benefit after 90 days. Since13 January 2009 only people made redundant are eligible to unemployment payments immediately. It is also stipulated that a person who turns down two jobs offered by an employment centre loses the benefit altogether. Whereas previously a person had the right, without being penalized, to turn down a job which offered less pay than in his or her previous employment, this is no longer the case.  According to the new rules, a person is offered work with a level of pay that cannot be higher than the average pay for the area of work in which the person was employed. Thus if the job applicant previously earned one thousand UAH per month, but the average for the field was 600, then this lower amount is what s/he can expect to receive.

There are also some equivocal new norms regarding pensioners who are still working. According to the Final Provisions of the Law “On amendments to some laws of Ukraine for reducing the impact of the world financial crisis on employment”, working pensioners will pay contributions to the Mandatory State Unemployment Insurance Fund, however will not be entitled to unemployment but only to social services in looking for the relevant job, as well as to information and consultation services linked with finding a job. These measures for working pensioners aimed at replenishing the budget of the Fund are to last until 1 January 2011.

Concern over delays in social payments to people who have lost their jobs due to the economic crisis is shown from time to time by the President[7], and other high-ranking public officials, and at the beginning of 2009 the President sent a submission to the Constitutional Court asking for a judgment as to the constitutionality of some provisions of the Law “On amendments to some laws of Ukraine for reducing the impact of the world financial crisis on employment” from 25 December 2008. However the situation has thus far not changed.

Taking away villagers’ right to unemployed status constitutes discrimination of the rural population. The authorities, without radically changing anything, have simply declared them self-employed. They were joined in this “happy state” by teachers, medical workers who were belatedly, as a social sphere of the village, provided with land for growing their own produce. So if for some reason teachers and medical assistants lose their jobs, they will not be able to apply for unemployment benefit.

It should be stressed that these changes have not touched some privileged and limited group, but 4.3 million households with incomes on which they can scarcely survive. Only 178.9 thousand own agricultural technology. This means that for 27 households there is one tractor, harvester or some kind of plough. And that’s for 6.5 million hectares.[8]

It is obviously much easier to mechanically move documents from a folder for “unemployed” to a more attractive one for those “in work”, than from the million of new jobs declared by the President to be created each year “register” half in rural areas.

This situation has already aroused social tension. For example villagers in the Lviv region came out with a demand to protect their rights.

Thirty villagers whom the Yavorivsky District Employment Centre refused to register as unemployed have prepared an appeal to the Ombudsperson Nina Karpachova. They are demanding that an item of the Law on amendments to legislation aimed at minimizing the effects of the world financial crisis on employment. According to the said item, from 13 January this year all residents of a village who own plots of land are considered members of a personal agricultural enterprise and are considered employed.

Members of the coordination group of villagers, who preferred not to give their names, told the journalist from www.zik.com.ua that they would be forced to other measures if their appeal is ignored.

“This anti-crisis package of laws is steeped in brutal discrimination against the rural population”, they say.

The Director of the Yavorivsky District Employment Centre, Mykhailo Vyhrynovych confirmed the information that from 13 January people from rural regions were not being registered at employment offices, and that more than 30 people had been sent away with nothing over the last 14 days. He considers the decision to infringe people’s human rights since “a family on a plot of land can grow potatoes to survive. Yet where are they to get the money to pay for electricity, gas, or simply to buy a toothbrush, soap or children’s shoes?”

Mykhailo Vyhrynovych says that at present the Centre has 2 thousand people registered unemployed, of whom 1, 552 are from rural areas. These are people who managed to register before 13 January. In answer to a question from the journalist, he said that there had thus far been no directive from Kyiv to remove people already registered from the lists. .[9]

It should be noted that on 25 February 2009 the Cabinet of Ministers, trying to resolve this problem, passed Resolution No. 144 “On amendments to the Procedure for registration, re-registration and keeping a record of citizens seeking work and the unemployed”. This states that citizens who are not working, including members of personal rural economic units, for whom the work in these units is not their main work, are eligible for registration, on condition that they apply to State employment services to help them find work.  However these changes were only cosmetic and they have not eliminated discrimination of villagers who have plots of land and don’t have other work, who are deprived of their right to register as unemployed.

Among positive changes we should mention that Item 3 of the Final Provisions of the Law   “On amendments to some laws of Ukraine for reducing the impact of the world financial crisis on employment”, for the period up to 1 January 2010 brings into force Articles 24, 25 and paragraphs 2 – 5 of Article 26 of the Law “On mandatory State unemployment insurance” regarding the provision of a benefit for partial unemployment.  This kind of benefit had long been envisaged, but for a long time had not been in force.  

 

4.  Ensuring decent working conditions

An important aspect of the right to work is that a level of remuneration is ensured which is not lower than the subsistence minimum. In order to fulfil this duty, the State stipulates a minimum wage mandatory for all enterprises.

The size of the minimum wage is determined by taking into account the needs of the workers and their families, the cost of the range of food items sufficient to ensure the normal functioning of the organism of an able-bodied person and maintaining their health, a minimum range of other commodities and services necessary for satisfying the main social and cultural needs of the individual, as well as the general average pay, productivity of labour and level of employment.

Unfortunately the legal norms of laws, in particular, the law “On remuneration” remain mere words. The said law states that the minimum wage is established at a level not lower than the size of the subsistence minimum for an able-bodied person. The continued practice of setting the minimum wage at lower than the subsistence minimum places in question the State’s compliance with a number of its obligations, and its safeguarding of the right to work.

There remains a fairly high percent of workers who receive wages which are lower than the subsistence minimum. The percentage in the majority of regions is higher than on average for the country. In such regions the number is as higher as 19-20%, and only in Kyiv and Donetsk is the figure less than 10%.  

 

The percentage of workers receiving pay which is lower than the subsistence minimum for an able-bodied person (for September 2008[10]

And this is with a subsistence minimum - the fundamental State social standard which the size of the minimum wage is based upon - that is underestimated and does not reflect the real level.

There are also problems with ensuring proper conditions for remuneration of public sector employees. According to the Accounting Chamber the introduction of a Single band scale has not led to any significant improvement since the new rates of pay are based on underestimated figures for the subsistence minimum and minimum wage. Given the underestimated subsistence minimum and the high level of inflation, the level of pay in the public sector does not meet the guarantees set out in the laws on education, the fundamental principles of health care legislation and on the fundamental principles of legislation on culture.

Despite the increase in nominal wages, the level of remuneration in education, healthcare, social protection, culture and sport remains consistently low.  The average salary for educational workers from January to September 2008 came to a mere 1, 393 UAH; in healthcare and the provision of social assistance – 1, 123 UAH; culture and sport - 1 483 UAH.  This is while in industry the figure was 2, 011 UAH and on average in the economy - 1773 UAH. One should bear in mind that the rate of increase of real wages indicating the buying power of the nominal wage is much slower due to the high level of consumer prices index.

Low salaries are adversely affecting the prestige of the professions of doctor, teacher, social and cultural-educational worker with this leading to people who have the appropriate education and training moving into other fields, as well as to an ageing of staff.

Normative legal safeguarding of the conditions of remuneration for employees of the public sector on the basis of the Single band scale is incomplete and does not meet the requirements of the Law “On State social standards and social guarantees”, nor Article 5 of the Law “On remuneration” which is leading to significantly under-estimated rates of pay for employees. The pay band system of remuneration was introduced without approved qualifying descriptions for professions (positions) in different public sector fields.[11]

We should also note that at the end of 2008 restrictions were introduced for public sector workers where with an increase in the minimum wage, the rate was only increased for first band employees, i.e. those who receive less than the minimum wage.  This effectively froze the pay of public sector workers, as well as undermining the principles of differentiation of pay depending on a worker’s qualifications. This could lead to the pay for unqualified public sector workers gradually moving towards the pay level of specialists. These same restrictions are in the Law on the State Budget for 2009.

In addition problems are also re-emerging with wages arrears.  These began to increase significantly at the end of 2008 – beginning of 2009.

 

Wage arrears (as of 1 January for each year)[12]

An increase in wages owed to employees of economically active enterprises was seen in all regions of the country with the exception of the Kherson region. The highest levels were in the Donetsk region (an increase of 92.9 million UAH) and Luhansk region (increase of 57.1 million UAH) and in Kyiv (76.0 million UAH).

The number of employees of economically active enterprises not paid on time on 1 February 2009 stood at 532.5 thousand, or 5% of the total number of people employed in the economy. On average each person had not been paid 1, 901 UAH.

In order to ensure proper working conditions, effective measures are needed to achieve safe and healthy conditions of work. Unfortunately the level of industry injury remains fairly high. Over the first half of 2008 the number of fatal accidents increased by 3.9% against 2007, with 501 people fatally injured.  There was a 14.2% increase in the number of cases of work-related illness in production (from 5, 947 to 6, 793).  Ukraine has one of the highest number of deaths at work, this being 6 per 100 thousand workers, which is 8.5 times higher than in the UK, 3 times higher than in Japan and more than twice as high as in Germany.

The highest number of accidents was recorded in the Donetsk, Luhansk and Dnipropetrovsk regions. The number of people injured in these regions comes to approximately 53.6% of the total number. These regions also have the highest figures for work-related illnesses, making up around 86% of the total number.[13]

The situation is also deteriorating because the number of people working in conditions which do not meet sanitation and hygiene norms has been increasing over recent years. In the main areas of the economy the figure reaches almost 28% of the official number of workers.

There are wide-scale infringements of normative acts on industrial safety. Ukraine’s State Committee on Industrial Safety (Derzhnpromnahlyad) has not ensured proper control over removal by employers of identified infringements of work safety. Impunity of officials guilty of work safety violations has resulted in a considerable reduction in control of industrial safety.

According to information from the Accounting Chamber the State Committee on Industrial Safety does not have information about investigation files passed by the law enforcement agencies to the courts and court rulings handed down. This is despite the fact that in 2006 the State Committee on Industrial Safety sent investigators material regarding infringements of work safety legislation by 590 people; in 2007 – by 876; and for the first half of 2008 – by 1, 827. [14]

There are major legislative gaps regarding regulation of work safety. There is no subordinate normative legal act regulating mechanisms for local State administrations to carry out their powers with regard to work safety as per Article 34 of the Law on Work Safety, and Article 16 of the Law on local State administrations.  Given State bodies’ inability to fully participate in drawing up normative legal acts on work safety, there are occasions where some norms related to safety and protection in the workplace were adopted back in Soviet times. We are not only talking about the 1980s, but even the 1920s. One glaring example is the Act “On issuing soap at enterprises” approved by the People’s Commissar for Labour of the Russian SSR on 6 August 1922, or the “Rules of work safety for employees of cotton production”/  The 38 pages of the Rules contain 92 references to other normative legal acts of the former Soviet Union which have not been revised in Ukraine. New normative legal acts, therefore, need to be drawn up bringing existing norms into line with international agreements and EU legislation.

The problem of an out-of-date normative legal base in work safety is also exacerbated by the fact that the management of enterprises does not have access to existing normative legal acts. There is virtually no attempt to circulate norms after they are added to the register. It is futile to look for them on the Internet or in bookshops. This issue must be resolved since free access or permanent circulation of such documents would make it easier for employers to carry out control over work safety in accordance with modern requirements.[15]

Furthermore, there is no integrated document at present of a programmatic nature on issues of work safety. Work on drawing up a new Nationwide Programme for improving safety, work hygiene and the work environment which the State Committee on Industrial Safety is responsible for has been continuing for more than two years. The Cabinet of Ministers and State Committee on Industrial Safety have also not ensured implementation of the requirements of the Law “On the fundamental principles of State supervision (control) in the sphere of economic activity” with regard to defining and approving established time periods for the criteria by which businesses, etc are divided according to the degree of risk inherent in their economic activity and determining the regularity of methods of State control in the area of work safety.

One can also classify as ineffective the Cabinet of Ministers’ transfer to the State Committee on Industrial Safety of the role of increasing work safety at coalmining enterprises through the creation of a unified telecommunications system for dispatcher supervision and automated control of mining machines and technological complexes, this being in breach of norms of current legislation, while the 70 million UAH allocated to the State Committee on Industrial Safety for this purpose was used inefficiently – work according to contracts had not been completed in the first six months of 2008.

 

5.  State control over observance of labour rights

The results of checks carried out during 2008 both by State bodies, and trade unions indicated that almost 90% of the employers checked were infringing labour legislation.

For example, according to a check undertaken by State Work Inspectors from the Minister of Employment and Social Policy, the most common infringements of labour legislation were with regard to pay, working hours, time off, contracts, rules for keeping record of employment books, concluding and implementing collective agreements and work discipline.

The largest percentage of such infringements is found in organizations and institutions with private or municipal forms of ownership, and in terms of business activity – those involved in wholesale or retail trading, industrial and agricultural enterprises.

As already noted, most infringements of legislation on labour rights are linked with pay. These came to 60.2% of the violations identified during checks. They are primarily cases where people are not paid on time for their work, or not paid in full.

At 52 percent of the enterprises with wage arrears checked by the State Labour Inspectorate there were infringements of the norms of legislation regarding payment of compensation for the loss of a part on ones pay in connection with deadlines and payments being missed, While at 56 percent of the enterprises with arrears no indexation of employees’ income was carried out in accordance with legislation[16]

At 9 percent of the enterprises checked by the State Labour Inspectorate, minimum guarantees of remuneration are not observed. Almost 15% of employers infringe the norms of General Branch Agreements regarding the minimum size of the tariff rate for first-band employees and 11% of employers infringe inter-qualification relations in work remuneration.

During the checks, 5, 071 employers, or 42% of those checked, were found to have used hired labour without proper formalities and with remuneration in “envelopes”. This figure included 2, 203 individuals engaged in business activities, or 74 percent of those checked. Such infringements concerned 20, 447 employees, with 2, 825 of these having been taken on without formalization of labour relations.

The situation is fairly acute with observance by employers of legislation of employment of minors. During a check by the State Labour Inspectorate young people up to the age of 14 were found to be working at agricultural enterprises. It was found that at some enterprises there was no special record of workers under the age of 18 with their dates of birth indicated, and preliminary medical check-ups had not been carried out when employing minors. The checks found cases when employees under the age of 18 had worked nightshifts, overtime, and weekends, as well as infringements of the Code of Labour Laws regarding payment of employees under the age of 18, when shortening the length of the working day, and unlawful dismissals..[17]

Infringements of legislation were also recorded in employing women. These infringements were found at 995 enterprises, institutions and organizations, or 45% of those employers checked for this. There were infringements of the ban on employing women for night shifts, heavy work or work in harmful or unsafe conditions, cases where women had to receive or move items with a mass in excess of the maximum norms. There were infringements with women who have children aged from 3 to 14 being made to work overtime without their consent.  

During 2008 proper control was not ensured of observance of the constitutional right of workers to time for rest. As a result, almost 15% of employees for various reasons did not make use of their right to annual paid leave. In come types of work this percentage was considerably higher: in sales -  33, 8 %, fishing – 30, 7 %, in hotel and restaurant work  – 27, 8 %, construction  – 26, 5 %, agriculture  – 24, 8 %, the forestry industry  – 23, 6 %.[18]

Over recent years one can observe a negative trend involving concealed dismissal of staff or a change in the organization of the workplace with work being changed under various pretexts or threats of dismissal “with the consent of both parties” or “at ones own wish”. This demonstrates that the guarantees of protection against illegal dismissal are not being implemented.  

Between January and September 2008 one in five workers changed their job. The vast majority (88.3%) resigned at their own wish. The rates of workers released came to only 2.2% of the total number of those leaving sectors of economic activity. In maintaining this phenomenon in conditions of financial and economic crisis, the level of social protection of workers and adherence to guarantees in legislation in connection with forced resignations could deteriorate.

Ukraine has ratified all necessary conventions of the International Labour Organization with regard to inspection of work however the necessary measures in this area to strengthen the influence of such inspection has not yet been carried out.

Violations of labour rights are leading to considerable social tension, which is demonstrated by the already fairly numerous conflicts at large enterprises.

One can cite the conflict at the Kherson machine building plant. When wage arrears affected workers at this plant, people blocked the work of the enterprise, demanding from the management that they pay the wages owed, and also restart the work of their plant. They demanded that in the document about reinstatement of work that something be written establishing the responsibility of the plant’s owners for carrying out their commitments.

The protesters asserted that wages had not been paid since September 2008, and that the arrears already came to 4 million 478 thousand UAH. According to the factory workers, they were told at a meeting with the directorate of the enterprise that the owners were not planning to retain the enterprise.[19]

We can also cite the difficult situation at the Lviv Car Factory where employees picketed the City Council and Russian Federation Consulate, demanding payment of wages owed. Of the once over thirty thousand workers, there are only a few thousand left and their prospects are not good. The factory owned by the Churkin brothers who are RF nationals has for eight months not paid wages in full. The arrears have reached 7 million UAH.[20]  The situation is no better at many other enterprises.

 

6.  Protection of the labour rights of labour migrants

Labour migration remains a major issue for Ukraine, and safeguards for their labour rights should be a priority of the State. Ukraine is party to 11 bilateral agreements regarding employment and 7 international accords on social security.

There is no information about the real number of labour migrants. Official statistics record several tens of thousands of people each year, whereas according to sociological studies up to 5% regularly travel abroad for work, and up to 20% of the able-bodied part of the population periodically supplement their income through working trips abroad. A further 30-40% would like to work in other countries. A prerequisite for legally working abroad is receiving a work permit before entering the country. In order to obtain such a permit, as a rule, one needs confirmation from an employment service of the relevant country, social insurance and other necessary documents from the foreign employer.

The issue of permits to work abroad lies exclusively within the competence of embassies and migration services of the relevant countries. At the same time resolution of this issue is possible within the framework of multilateral or bilateral agreements on employment and social security to which Ukraine is a party.

Yet there remain no international agreements on employment and social protection of nationals with the countries where a considerable number of Ukrainian nationals are presently working, specifically, Argentina, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Georgia, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Spain and Turkey.

 

7.  The rights of trade unions

Where employees’ labour rights are violated, it is difficult for them to oppose the “side with power” by themselves with this often resulting in unlawful dismissals or even non-payment of wages and other labour law infringements.

When workers stand alone, they are easier to break, intimidate, dismiss or drag through the courts. The role of trade unions is therefore vital, and the more workers unite in defence of their violated rights, the stronger they are, and the more effective in protecting their rights and making employers meet the lawful demands of the working collective.

It must, however, be noted, that in conditions of crisis, i.e. precisely when workers more than at any time need protection from all those wishing to economize at their expensive, there is no real mechanism for protection. Trade unions in their present state fulfil this role very poorly and people’s confidence in them has fallen below the critical point.

The government needs to take measures aimed at providing real safeguards for the freedom of trade union activity and independence of a trade union from the State authorities, and at increasing their role in protecting the interests of the average worker. One of such measures would be the establishment of trouble-free procedure for registration. Unfortunately registration of a trade union remains complicated and involves approaching dozens of different State bodies and submitting an unwarrantedly large number of documents for registration.

Trade unions often encounter difficulties in registering their articles of association with the Ministry of Justice. Most of these problems are caused by failings and lack of clarity with regard to legislation and the possibilities for civic organizations, including trade unions. As an example of this, one can cite the situation which arose over registration of the Masters’ Guild as a trade union.

On 14 August 2008 the Masters’ Guild sent an application for legalization, together with the other legally stipulated documents to the Ministry of Justice. Yet the Guild has still not been legalized, with the Ministry of Justice refusing to take this step on the grounds that the Masters’ Guild can supposedly not fulfil the function of organizing collective management of authors’ rights. It does not, however, provide a response to the question of which particular article and which specific law prohibits this. Lack of clarity is thus impeding the registration of this trade union.

Trade unions also encountered fairly serious problems in 2008 in carrying out their tasks. We would point out cases of attacks on representatives of the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine on16 and 17 November 2008 in Kyiv and some other regions. Attempts were made at that time to seize and hold premises of regional branches of the trade union. There is information that people from the outside, applying physical force, burst into trade union premises, breaking the locks on office doors and damaging office equipment.  In a number of cases documents were stolen including protocols of meetings of the elected bodies and stamps.[21]

At the same time, it should be said that the biggest trade union structure – the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine has recently taken an active role primarily over conflict around trade union property inherited from Soviet times. Privatization of trade union sanatoria and holiday centres has led to innumerable scandals. Furthermore, since 2005 more places owned by trade unions have been sold than during the previous 10 years. Due to this parliament has even placed a year’s moratorium on the sale of trade union property, and the Federation itself recently changed its Head.

The practice is very widespread of dodgy trade unions – trade union committees set up or hired by employers themselves for so-called “trade union servicing”.

“In Ukraine trade unions which could defend employees are very weak. There are very few trade unions that are independent of the employers”, specialist on the trade union movement Yury Vishnevsky told the weekly “Commentaries”. “Therefore the only possible protest actions are protests against the government supported by employers. The last strike of workers of the gas industry was against the Government of Yulia Tymoshenko, and she swiftly made concessions because it was effectively a strike of employers. One could have an analogous strike in the mining industry if they’re ignored. However I don’t see the possibility of strikes aimed against job losses, dismissals, reductions in wages”.[22]

 

8.  Recommendations

1)  Increase unemployment benefit to the subsistence minimum envisaged by legislation;

2)  Reduce high unemployment among the most vulnerable groups of the population, in the first instance, young people, those approaching retirement age and the disabled;

3)  Pass amendments to legislation to remove the discriminatory norms regarding members of the rural population registering unemployed.

4)  Increase the ratio held by wages in the GNP and in the cost value of production;

5)  Bring the minimum wage into line with the demands of the European Social Charter

6)  Ensure effective differentiation of remuneration in the public sector through the application of a single system of pay bands.

7)  Take measures to improve pay in State bodies in order to ensure social protection of ordinary employees, removing the system of concealed earnings established through the awarding of various bonuses and supplements which are more dependent on loyalty to the management, than on productivity.

8)  Reduce wage arrests for employees of the public sector, and also take measures aimed at minimizing wage indebtedness at enterprises and organizations of any type of ownership.

9)  Improve the system of work safety in order to reduce industrial accidents and work-related illnesses, including through improvements to legislation in this area, as well as carrying out prevention programmes.

10)  Improve control over adherence to standards and requirements in the sphere of protection of labour and ensure swift and efficient investigations into cases of injury.

11)  Improve State control over observance of labour rights and create effective mechanisms for reacting to violations.

12)  Take measures to effectively protect the labour rights of minors and women.

13)  Conclude international agreements in the area of employment and social protection of labour migrants with countries where a considerable number of Ukrainian nationals are working, where such agreements have not been reached.

14)  Ensure strict observance of the rights of trade unions, and promote the development of a strong and independent trade union movement.

 



[1] By Maxim Shcherbatyuk, UHHRU.

[2] Figures from the State Department of Statistics  http://ukrstat.gov.ua/

[3] “Will unemployment in Ukraine reach 9%?» // The Internet publication “Economichna pravda”, 17.02.2009 http://epravda.com.ua/news/499aa50eb03e8/

[4] Figures from the State Department of Statistics  , http://ukrstat.gov.ua/

[5] “Will unemployment in Ukraine reach 9%?» // The Internet publication “Economichna pravda”, 17.02.2009, http://epravda.com.ua/news/499aa50eb03e8/

[6] For more detail about the significant artificial underestimation of the subsistence minimum in, see the section on socio-economic rights.

[7] “There are already 930 thousand people unemployed in Ukraine” // The Internet publication “Economichna pravda”, , 09.02.2009, http://epravda.com.ua/news/49903bbf4fe7a/

[8] V. Chopenko. “The Employed village” // “Dzerkalo tyzhnya”  № 5 (733), 14-20 February 2009, http://dt.ua/2000/2080/65399/

[9] “Lviv region villagers call on Human Rights Ombudsperson to defend their right to unemployed status

// 28 February 2009, http://zik.com.ua/ua/news/2009/02/28/171406  English here: http://khpg.org.ua/en/index.php?id=1235826981

[10] Figures from the State Department of Statistics  http://ukrstat.gov.ua/.

[11] “Remuneration for work in the public sector is in need of change”. Accounting Chamber of Ukraine, http://ac-rada.gov.ua/achamber/control/uk/publish/article/main?art_id=1290592&cat_id=411

[12] Figures from the State Department of Statistics  http://ukrstat.gov.ua/

[13] “Prevention of accidents in the workplace and of work-related illnesses requires combined efforts” // Industrial Accident and Occupational Diseases which have caused Disability Fund http://mlsp.gov.ua/control/uk/publish/article;jsessionid=B7728DF4E0BCD137ED4DEA358AEC5C0B?art_id=91023&cat_id=35666

[14] “State Committee on Industrial Safety – kicking into its own goalpost” // Accounting Chamber of Ukraine  http://ac-rada.gov.ua/achamber/control/uk/publish/article/main?art_id=1256197&cat_id=411

[15] M. Bondarenko. “”Dangerous” right to work // “Legal Weekly” №47(120), 18 November 2008. http://legalweekly.com.ua/article/?uid=773

[16] From material from parliamentary hearings: On the situation with observance of the constitutional guarantees of citizens’ labour rights”, http://rada.gov.ua/zakon/new/par_sl/sl1012108.htm

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid

[19] “Ukraine’s Confederation of Free Trade Unions supports the strikers in Kherson!” http://kvpu.org.ua/ua/news/144/

[20]  V. Khudytsky “Collective overboard” – they are proposing to throw out Lviv’s industrial enterprises to save themselves” // Dzerkalo tyzhnya, № 49 (728), 27 December -16 January 2009, http://dt.ua/2000/2600/65071/

[21] “Yesterday throughout Ukraine they stormed the premises of trade unions” // Internet publication “ProUA”

http://ua.proua.com/news/2008/11/17/091459.html

[22] “Trade unions are not ready to protect workers in conditions of economic crisis” // Radio Svoboda 07.11.2008., http://radiosvoboda.org/content/article/1339508.html

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