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September 15, 2011

Reforming Labor Relations

The basis for labor legislation currently in force in Ukraine is a Code of Labor Laws that has been in effect since soviet times. Even the more than 600 amendments made to it over the last 20 years have not made it capable of regulating labor issues in a democratic country with a market economy.

The current Administration has positioned the new draft Labor Code, a document that will form the basis of labor reform, as one that is in line with best international standards in labor relations. At the same time, members of the opposition and voters say that individual provisions of the new Code conflict with Sec. 3 Art. 22 of the Constitution of Ukraine, which prohibits narrowing the nature and extent of existing rights and freedoms in establishing new regulatory acts.

An analysis of the Code by ICPS experts indicates that, should the new Code be adopted as it is, the basic problem with Ukraine’s labor legislation will not be eliminated: the great imbalance in rights and duties between hired labor and those that employ it. Among others, it includes provisions that could even further restrict the rights of unions, complicate the procedure for settling labor disputes through Labor Arbitration Commissions, and make it possible to replace labor contracts and/or collective agreements by unilateral employer decisions.

The confrontation between various associations of unions was an unexpected consequence of public debate over the new Labor Code. Although they are by their nature intended to protect the rights, freedoms and interests of workers, in Ukraine today, labor unions are actually run by various political forces. This has led to diametrically opposed views regarding changes to labor law among various unions.

The international donor community could assist in switching from a merely formal to a real adoption of world and European standards by the participants and proper procedures for social dialog, which would help reduce social tensions in Ukraine around the issue of reforming labor legislation. Constructive dialog among the government, employers and professional unions is an essential condition for successful reforms of labor relations in Ukraine.

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