Ukraine gov’t uses martial law to impose anti-labor laws

By Janet Post
August 8, 2022

Ignoring opposition by a united labor movement, the Ukrainian parliament is taking advantage of Moscow’s invasion and martial law conditions, which ban strikes and protests, to pass anti-labor laws long sought by the country’s bosses. Crafted by the capitalist government of President Volodymyr Zelensky to boost bosses’ profits, the laws tear up contracts won by unions, impose longer hours and give bosses greater power to fire workers.

At the same time, workers hit by the measures are helping lead resistance to Moscow’s invasion, as combatants in the Ukrainian armed forces, in territorial defense units and in protests in cities occupied by Russian forces.

Parliament eliminated collective bargaining rights at any job with 250 workers or less, turning labor agreements into “individual employment contracts” July 20. More than 70% of the Ukrainian workforce would be affected by this change. Workers can be thrown out of their jobs without the possibility of defense by their union, forced to do jobs not in their contracts, have their workweek increased from 40 to 60 hours and their vacation time cut.

To win passage of the new law, a clause was added saying the measure would only apply during the war.

“But it is clear that no one will be able to undo this situation later,” wrote Mykailo Volynets, chairperson of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) and a member of parliament. “The labor code will no longer apply, collective agreements will be eliminated.”

Ukraine’s two largest labor federations — the KVPU and the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine (FPU), which dates back to Stalinist rule in the Soviet Union — have joined forces to fight the government measures.

The laws “will lead to the violation of the rights of Ukrainian workers, who are doing everything possible to help the country win the war and restore peace,” Volynets said.

At the ArcelorMittal plant in Kryvyi Rih, the largest steelworks in the country, bosses have already suspended parts of the union contract, the Trade Union of Metallurgists and Miners says.

A second bill passed July 20 will permit bosses to hire up to 10% of the workforce on “casual” or “zero-hour” contracts. Workers could be given as little as 32 hours of work per month and would be “on-call.”

Some workers on military duty are paid by the companies where they work. But parliament voted for a measure transferring these payments to the government. This has resulted in steep pay cuts. Workers have begun taking wage grievances to their unions.

Another bill due in parliament would confiscate buildings owned by the FPU that are now being used to house workers displaced by the war. Since February, some 300,000 Ukrainians, including women with children, family members of military personnel, those disabled and elderly have received shelter, food, and medical care in these facilities.

“Those who have attempted to weaken worker and union rights in Ukraine for more than a decade have now seized upon the wartime crisis to push through those provisions,” the FPU stated July 20. “While promising steadfast commitment to the nation’s defense, Ukrainian unions stated strongly that the war should not be used as an excuse to gut workers’ rights.”