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13.12.2001 | Bogdan Bondarenko, Lugansk

Students – yard sweepers

   

So, you have passed the entrance examinations and are enlisted to a higher school. You are a student at last! You are invited to the first meeting with your faculty dean. The remembrances of the entrance examinations, fears inspired by rumors about common corruption among teachers and impossibility of entering the institute without bribes remain behind very fast. You are physically sense the great victory and are full with exhilaration that you spared money for future bribes…

Now the dean takes the floor and tells the freshmen about the achievements of the faculty, the history of the institute, advises how to learning and gives some precious hints for the future. From this speech students of the budget-paid departments learn that they must work 1-2 weeks (and sometimes more) at common works. Students and even their parents mostly do not understand that the students’ rights are brutally violated by sending them to coercive labor. If someone dared to ask for any legal justification of this demand, then they will never get a legally grounded response. The answer would be ‘You must’, and the habitual fear imbibed at school and developed during the entrance examinations will prompt awful repressions on the side of teachers and administration up to expelling from the institute.

The rule that only the budget-fed students must work for the education, and their more fortunate paying students must not, is a certain form of social discrimination. Here many rightful and just questions may be asked.

There is another opportunity: to pay off the coerced labor with a modest sum. That is the routine way out for students from other towns, who would spend more for bed and food during this work.

As a rule, students clean classrooms, wash windows, assist in repairing and building, fulfil other cheep and dirty works. The technical personnel, whose duty is to do these works, get wages for occasional instruction of students.

When the educational process begins, you will learn that some acute students were ‘sick’ or escaped to other places, but nobody tried to punish them by paying the money or doing similar works. It shows that the administration has no legal levers to make students work.

Unfortunately, using gratis the coercive work of students does not finish here. If a new building is erected in your institute, you will become a constructive worker. If no building is erected, then you will clean classrooms or sweep the territory or, in or climate, shovel off the snow. The dean’s office may make a student work because it may punish. Insufficient financing from the budget is, in the opinion of administration, the main reason to make students work. In some institutes this practice of making students work gratis has become a routine, as well as the frequent demands of money, which is never known where they are expended, since there are no financial reports.

Let us evaluate this practice from a legal point of view. Article 8 of the Ukrainian Constitution reads: ‘The Constitution of Ukraine has the highest juridical force. Any laws or legal acts must be based on the Constitution and must agree with it’. Article 19 stipulates that ‘the legal procedures of Ukraine are based the principles, according to which no one must be enforced to do what is not stipulated by laws’. Article 43 of the Constitution unambiguously confirms: ‘The use of coercive labor is forbidden’, i.e. the acts of higher school administrations are illegal and contradict the Constitution of Ukraine.

The further detailed elaboration of the phenomena ‘coercive labor’ and the necessity of abolishing these practices are determined in Convention No. 29 of the International Organization of Trade Unions (IOTU) ‘On coercive labor’ and in Convention No. 105 of the IOTU ‘On abolishing coercive labor’, which were ratified by Ukraine on 9 June 1997 and 5 October 2000, respectively. The situation described contradicts Articles 112, 121, 14 and 17 of Convention No. 29 and Article 1 items a, в, e and Article 2 of Convention No. 105.

What can a student, who is rather ignorant in juridical instruments of protecting human rights and freedoms, do in such a case?

The simplest tricks used by students to dodge the work are complaints at maladies, family problems, etc.

We believe that there is a better way out. First, one must demand the explanations from the administration, on the ground of which documents the students must work (the explanations must be demanded in writing), if this order agreed with the trade union, is there a permission from an inspector of labor protection, and which conditions exactly are listed in these documents: the duration of the work, work hours, temperature in the room, which working clothes will be supplied. And the name of the person in charge of safety labor, which is very important. As a rule, it will appear that there is no written order, and, even if it exists, then the above-mentioned conditions are skipped.

Secondly, if there is a human rights protection organization in your town or institute, you must turn to such organization. It is well known that trade unions are obliged to deal with such cases. Unfortunately, trade unions have become a continuation of the administration, and it is not worthwhile to turn to them.

It should be remembered that protection of your rights and freedoms mainly depends on yourselves, on your understanding that it is necessary and on your insistence.

PL commentary:
We are publishing the article by B. Bondarenko, who is the head of the Zhovtnevy branch of the Students’ brotherhood of the Lugank oblast. We hope that in the nearest future we shall be able to tell our readers about concrete activities of the Lugansk youth community.

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