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12.11.2008

Trade unions ill-equipped to defend workers in hard times

   

Ukrainian trade unions cannot effectively defend the interests of employees in an economic crisis. In situations where social problems come to the fore trade union structures are oriented in the first instance to upholding the interests of the employers or of the government.

The economic crisis has already led to an increase in wage arrears. Even by official statistics tens of thousands of people have been sent on unpaid leave. The scale of hidden unemployment is much greater and wide-scale reductions in staff are not yet reflected in official statistics.

“The majority of people who came to work on the construction site worked according to a verbal agreement”, the head of the National Forum of Ukrainian Trade Unions Myroslav Yakibchuk explains. “The brigade leader chose the brigade, agreed on how much they’d be paid and didn’t organize any work book (which each employee usually has – translator).  We don’t have figures of how many people have lost work, for example in the building industry. The last statistics say 8 thousand, however in fact some 250-300 thousand people have lost work.”

Due to the world crisis various businesses are being forced to reduce staff. Thousands of people from various professions are coming up against infringements of their rights. For example, people are being forced, against the law, to resign and even backdate this so as to not pay them the legally guaranteed social payments.

The property question has spoiled them

Trade unions are there to protect employees, yet the situation in conditions of crisis is extremely unsatisfactory. The biggest trade union structure – the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine – has in recent times been active mainly with regard to conflict over property which it inherited from Soviet times. Privatization of trade union sanatoriums and holiday centres has led to numerous scandals. Moreover since 2005 more buildings, etc, owned by trade unions have been sold than during the previous 10 years. For this reason parliament even put a year’s moratorium on the sale of trade union property, and the Federation itself recently changed its head.

“The old “pocket” trade unions (there to do what was required – translator) have become fully on the side of the employers”, the Head of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions and Deputy from BYuT Mykhailo Volynets says. “The trade union of the mining and metallurgical complex workers has already passed a decision with demands to the government and has agreed to reduce staff.

With such a law you won’t go on strike

A very widespread phenomenon is that of so-called “yellow trade unions”. These are trade union committees which are created or hired by the employers themselves for what they call “trade union service”

“In Ukraine trade unions which could be defending employees are very weak. There are very few trade unions which are independent of the employers”, Yury Vishevsky an expert on the trade union movement says. “Therefore the only possible action is action against the government supported by the employers. The last strike of gas industry workers against Yulia Tymoshenko’s government quickly backed down, since it was basically an employers’ strike. There could be a similar strike in the coal industry. However I don’t see any possibility for strikes against staff cuts, dismissals, reduction in wages

On the other hand the Head of the National Forum of Ukrainian Trade Unions Myroslav Yakibchuk believes that trade union activeness is hampered by inadequate legislation. “There is complicated legislation regarding strikes and most workers are frightened to have them because if the court finds that the strike was unlawful, and the courts are often not objective, we have to compensate the business owners for losses. And trade unions are poor as it is”.

All of these factors have led to primarily hired employees being ill-prepared for overcoming the consequences of the world financial crisis.

Slightly abridged from www.radiosvoboda.org

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