Much ink has been spilled on human rights and European norms in Ukraine, especially since the country signed an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2014. However, despite the rhetoric of progress and democratic gain, there is a casual acceptance of extreme economic views which place macro-economic ideology fixated on foreign investment and short-term interests of large businesses ahead of the wellbeing of working people. Relatively speaking, international actors are slow to comment on workers’ rights, compared to freedom of speech or protection of property, for example. The extent to which freedom of association is foundational to democracy is underappreciated.
Especially sobering is how governing party leaders have boldly and publically dismissed human rights in the sphere of work. The Ukrainian Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture is leading the push for the draft laws, including core Draft Law No. 2708 that remakes Ukraine’s labour law, with support from the ruling party in Parliament. Economic Minister Tymofiy Mylovanov publicly cites labour market flexibility and deregulation as a core goal of the current government, one of his top priorities along with privatisation and land reform. Minister Mylovanov has been actively advocating for the laws, explaining in a social media post that “In the draft law it is enshrined that dismissal is possible simply because of an employer`s desire.”
The Minister is not alone in his minimalist view of labour relations. The law’s primary advocate in Parliament, governing party MP Halyna Tretyakova, likewise acknowledged that the law pushes the balance of power, commenting to employers: “We will seek to create for you, for business, very easy and cheap conditions for hiring and firing, in order to give you opportunities to create more jobs in Ukraine. But this means that we will be a bit of a bully on workers’ rights, and discriminate against them.”
In addition to the tone of the debate, the process has also been provocative. The current Ukrainian Parliament struggles to adhere to democratic procedural requirements in general, and often simply ignores required steps in its comfort of a large single party majority. The government’s Draft Law No. 2708 is not the first example of a failure to follow democratic processes, but it is a dramatic one on a major issue impacting human rights.
The law’s introduction was arguably invalid, given that Ukraine’s Parliament requires consideration of previously submitted laws on substantially the same topic before new drafts can be filed (with a time window for filing alternates). Draft Law No. 2708 was submitted despite a opposition-backed labour law pending, and was submitted past the allowable time. It was also introduced through a maneuver that allows laws with fewer than 100 articles (it has 98) to proceed along an accelerated path, giving less time for debate and amendments. The sponsors of the law also dodged the legal obligation to consult with trade unions and employers’ associations on significant changes to labour related legislation, another step that was simply not taken.
The list of parliamentary missteps does not end there. Among other arguable violations, the lead committee ignored a process requiring laws be evaluated by several technical committees before consideration. According to the requirements, a given law must be evaluated for its compliance with international obligations, its impact on anti-corruption efforts, and its effect on the budget. Only after the three committees responsible for each of these spheres have provided their conclusions (within three weeks) would the law be allowed to move forward. Again, these requirements were simply side stepped.
Although the Ukrainian government is receiving some push back, so far opposition to the laws is led by Ukrainian and international trade unions. The International Trade Union Confederation and national European, US and other unions issued strong condemnations. What remains surprisingly difficult to guess, is the extent to which international diplomatic missions, donor organisations and broader civil society will defend a fundamental freedom so directly under assault – one in conflict with a zealous view of market liberalisation.Print