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Every year, people die and receive injuries in accidents on Ukraine’s construction sites. Reporting for openDemocracy in June 2019, journalist Alexey Arunian exposed the serious safety concerns associated with working in Ukraine’s construction industry, demonstrating the connection between informal employment and poor safety regulation on building sites in Kyiv. A weak State Labour Inspectorate makes the conditions for workers all the more dangerous, and the statistics show it: official numbers show that between January and May 2019, 25 workers died in Ukraine’s construction industry – twice more than the same period in 2018.

With plans afoot for a new Labour Code in Ukraine, Ukrainian journal Commons spoke to Vasyl Andreyev, head of the Union of Construction Workers and Construction Industry Workers, about the reality of defending workplace rights in the country. We translate and publish the interview with permission here.

Trade unions today are often associated with the Soviet era, when they performed an assistive function for the authorities, rather than defending the rights of workers. How important are union rights in Ukraine right now? Why is this issue still far from unpopular?

As an idea, trade unions aren’t so popular due to the lack of a culture of defending your rights among our fellow citizens.

Vasyl Andreyev
Vasyl Andreyev | Source: Facebook

First and foremost, this is about people at your workplace. We have a blind faith in the idea that “the man with money knows what he’s doing”.

Although everyone understands that the labour market is a two-way street. Just as workers get something from their wages, so does the employer need the added value that the workers bring them.

In our country the idea of creating a trade union movement is incredibly relevant today, looking at the distance between owners and workers. Together with Moldova, Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe. And this situation hasn’t changed for the better in the last 10 years.

Could you talk about the history of your union and its regional representatives? Can you talk about some examples of success and failures of the trade union movement?

Ukraine’s Union of Construction Workers was set up in 1957, after the merger between the construction workers’ union and union of construction industry workers. It has undergone different stages of development – millions of unionised workers, united by the union of construction workers, and a drop in membership. But now everything is concentrated on solving the urgent problems of our members and overcoming challenges arising when we need to defend our members from employees, including those abroad. Here I mean international corporations.

Our regional cases involve Dnipro region, where there are attempts to raise wages at the Heidelberg cement factory, as well as Lviv and Khmelnitsky regions where there are negotiations with Irish company construction materials company CRH. And the last case is restoring justice for the more than 400 members of our union at a Vinnytsa cement factory which produces materials for the Ukrainian state railway company [Employees at the factory have not received wages since February 2019, when the factory shut down operations].

What’s the union’s position regarding Ukraine’s labour and, in general, the labour legislation in the country?

Well, what shouldn’t happen is what is currently going on with the draft bill of Ukraine’s new Labour Code. No one has heard or seen it, it’s unclear who’s writing it, but everyone is saying that workers should be slightly discriminated against.

We see the idea of creating an ultra-liberal Labour Code instead of the existing Code of Labour Laws very negatively. We don’t accept the thesis that there are too many rights which workers aren’t using at the moment. This is, in general, a very strange statement to make. Instead, it’s the case that legal procedures don’t guarantee certain rights. But there are no rights that workers wouldn’t use. As we showed on 7 November on the International Day for Decent Work, we will resist an ultra-liberal labour code at all costs. If it’s passed, we’ll start a campaign for its cancellation.


[1][2][3] In Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy must tread carefully or may end up facing another Maidan uprising ➤[4] «Боротися треба завжди» — голова профспілки будівельників Василь Андреєв | Спільне ➤[5] Робітники заводу «Укрзалізниці», які півроку не отримують зарплату, пікетували Кабмін і Офіс президента ➤[6]