Wartime economics and workers’ rights are not exactly good friends. Ukraine, despite its socialist heritage, is no exception. With nearly 5mn people out of work since the full-scale war began, production lines at a standstill or idling, the government has been forced to react to stimulate the Ukrainian economy. But the proposed policies, many of them neoliberal in inspiration, are hardly garnering unanimous approval.
“We are at war and we understand that emergency measures must be taken to keep the economy afloat, but the executive is destroying the labour code. It is taking advantage of the situation to pass bills in Parliament without debate or consultation,” Vitaliy Dudin, a member of the Ukrainian NGO Sotsyalnyi Rukh (“Social Movement”), told Mediapart.
The trade unions have condemned two new regulations in particular. The first, passed on March 15, concerns the “regulation of labour relations during martial law.” And it offers great flexibility to employers: employees can now work between 40 and 60 hours per week; have their wages lowered according to the company’s outcomes; and even be fired within ten days if the company can no longer operate.
Most trade unions have accepted this measure, considering it necessary in wartime. However, many remain concerned about draft bill, 5371. According to George Sandul, a lawyer with the Ukrainian NGO Labour Initiatives, the draft law “is not intended to be suspended at the end of the fighting, and [it] completes the destruction of the Ukrainian labour code, by taking advantage of the ban on strikes and demonstrations during martial law.” The bill is in fact an old project, which the parliament never dared to put to a vote, “but a window opened with the war and they are taking advantage of it”, the lawyer said.
According to Ekonomichna Pravda, there are about 3.6mn unemployed people currently living in Ukraine. Finding a job depends largely on where one lives. In the Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia regions, finding employment has become particularly difficult, while in Lviv, which has been little affected by the fighting, the situation is almost unchanged. The capital Kyiv is in an in-between situation. Fortunately, “little by little, employees of small and medium-sized businesses, which suffered the most, are returning to work,” writes Ekonomichna Pravda.
The situation may have stabilised, but Ukrainian workers are already paying a high price for the consequences of the war.
This article originally appeared in FPRI's BMB Ukraine newsletter. Click here to learn more about BMB Ukraine and subscribe to the newsletter.