Draft Ukrainian Labor Laws ‘A Gift to Oligarchs’

Draft Ukrainian Labor Laws ‘A Gift to Oligarchs’

More than a thousand local union leaders and activists from across Ukraine met today to plan an emergency mobilization to protest draft labor law amendments that would enable employers to fire workers based on any reason, undermining anti-discrimination protections; allow employers to unilaterally terminate employment contracts and set contracts with unfixed work schedules; and drastically reduce overtime pay from a 100 percent to 20 percent premium, in violation of international labor law. A set of proposed amendments to labor and trade union laws would gut legal protection for unions and see the state unilaterally seize union property.

Ukraine, labor law protest, unions, Solidarity Center

Credit: Solidarity Center/Tristan Masat

“These laws are a disaster. They undermine the welfare of average Ukrainians, and are little more than a New Year’s gift to oligarchs and corruption,” says Inna Kudinska, a legal expert with Labor Initiatives, a Solidarity Center-supported Ukrainian NGO that provides legal assistance to workers. “Honest business and foreign investment won’t benefit, but average people will suffer.”

Workers have waged protests against the proposed laws for weeks, blocking roads in three towns in the Luhansk region and joining online flashmobs with the hashtags #МолодьПРОТИрабства (youth against slavery) and #НіРабськимЗаконам (no to slave laws).

“The 98 articles of the governmental proposed law, “On Labor,” written by the Ministry of Economy as well as the new trade union law, were drafted without consultation with social partners and expert community,” the global union Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) says in a statement. “The law … further violates Rada [Parliament] procedures, as the body is already considering another labor law.”

Global Labor Movement Condemns Proposed Labor Laws

The global labor movement, including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), are condemning the proposed laws and supporting Ukrainian workers’ international rights to form unions and bargain collectively.

Ukraine, George Sandul lawyer. labor law meeting, Solidarity Center

“We must resist the adoption of anti-union legislation,” lawyer George Sandul told thousands of union leaders. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tristan Masat

The International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) network sent a letter to Ukraine Prime Minister Olexii Hohcharuk and other top officials detailing reasons the government must withdraw the proposed amendments—including violation of the Ukraine Constitution—and urging it to consult with unions to ensure any future labor law changes are consistent with International Labor Organization (ILO) regulations that Ukraine has signed.

“There appears to be no possible motivation for these amendments other than to weaken the trade union movement and to eliminate the basic contractual rights of all workers,” wrote ILAW, a project of the Solidarity Center, that includes more than 350 members from more than 50 countries.

“Unions are an integral part of Ukraine’s civil society—they are organic, grassroots-driven activist communities fighting for the well-being of the many,” Labor Initiatives lawyer George Sandul said at today’s emergency union meeting.

“This is why we must resist the adoption of anti-union legislation.”

And even as Ukraine battles widespread corruption, legal experts say the draft labor laws will undermine new anti-corruption whistleblower laws because workers will have no protections from dismissal for reporting corruption.

Draft Ukrainian Labor Laws ‘A Gift to Oligarchs’

Draft Ukrainian Labor Laws ‘A Gift to Oligarchs’

More than a thousand local union leaders and activists from across Ukraine met today to plan an emergency mobilization to protest draft labor law amendments that would enable employers to fire workers based on any reason, undermining anti-discrimination protections; allow employers to unilaterally terminate employment contracts and set contracts with unfixed work schedules; and drastically reduce overtime pay from a 100 percent to 20 percent premium, in violation of international labor law. A set of proposed amendments to labor and trade union laws would gut legal protection for unions and see the state unilaterally seize union property.

Ukraine, labor law protest, unions, Solidarity Center
Credit: Solidarity Center/Tristan Masat

“These laws are a disaster. They undermine the welfare of average Ukrainians, and are little more than a New Year’s gift to oligarchs and corruption,” says Inna Kudinska, a legal expert with Labor Initiatives, a Solidarity Center-supported Ukrainian NGO that provides legal assistance to workers. “Honest business and foreign investment won’t benefit, but average people will suffer.”

Workers have waged protests against the proposed laws for weeks, blocking roads in three towns in the Luhansk region and joining online flashmobs with the hashtags #МолодьПРОТИрабства (youth against slavery) and #НіРабськимЗаконам (no to slave laws).

“The 98 articles of the governmental proposed law, “On Labor,” written by the Ministry of Economy as well as the new trade union law, were drafted without consultation with social partners and expert community,” the global union Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) says in a statement. “The law … further violates Rada [Parliament] procedures, as the body is already considering another labor law.”

Global Labor Movement Condemns Proposed Labor Laws

The global labor movement, including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), are condemning the proposed laws and supporting Ukrainian workers’ international rights to form unions and bargain collectively.

Ukraine, George Sandul lawyer. labor law meeting, Solidarity Center
“We must resist the adoption of anti-union legislation,” lawyer George Sandul told thousands of union leaders. Credit: Solidarity Center/Tristan Masat

The International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) network sent a letter to Ukraine Prime Minister Olexii Hohcharuk and other top officials detailing reasons the government must withdraw the proposed amendments—including violation of the Ukraine Constitution—and urging it to consult with unions to ensure any future labor law changes are consistent with International Labor Organization (ILO) regulations that Ukraine has signed.

“There appears to be no possible motivation for these amendments other than to weaken the trade union movement and to eliminate the basic contractual rights of all workers,” wrote ILAW, a project of the Solidarity Center, that includes more than 350 members from more than 50 countries.

“Unions are an integral part of Ukraine’s civil society—they are organic, grassroots-driven activist communities fighting for the well-being of the many,” Labor Initiatives lawyer George Sandul said at today’s emergency union meeting.

“This is why we must resist the adoption of anti-union legislation.”

And even as Ukraine battles widespread corruption, legal experts say the draft labor laws will undermine new anti-corruption whistleblower laws because workers will have no protections from dismissal for reporting corruption.

Cambodia Casino Workers Win Big Wage Gains

Cambodia Casino Workers Win Big Wage Gains

Thousands of casino workers at NagaWorld hotel and casino complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, won a wage increase that boosts pay between 18 percent and 30 percent and secured the reinstatement of union president Sithar Chhim, who was suspended from her job in September for defending the right of a union member to wear a shirt with a message that called for higher wages. The agreement also provides a $200 incentive for workers without health insurance and a bonus equal to roughly two months’ salary, says Chhim.

Cambodia, NagaWorld, casino strike, wages, Solidarity Center

Credit: Solidarity Center

Some 5,000 of the 8,000 workers—including dealers, slot machine workers, housekeepers and technicians—struck the casino January 9, and more than 4,000 rallied outside the complex for two days with signs saying “Demanding living wages is a right, not a crime!” and holding placards with photos of Chhim seeking her reinstatement. Chhim, a game floor supervisor, is branch president for the Khmer Employees’ Labor Rights Support Union of NagaWorld.

NagaCorp, a five-hotel resort and casino, has an exclusive, multidecade license to operate in Phnom Penh and reported an estimated $1.8 billion in revenue last year, up from $1.5 billion in 2018. Yet housekeepers are paid $191 per month.

Cambodia, NagaWorld casino strike, police, Solidarity Center

Police at NagaWorld hotel and casino as workers rallied outside. Credit: Solidarity Center

In May, nearly all 4,000 union members signed a petition demanding a wage increase, and the union began negotiations with the employer in June. When the company did not return to the bargaining table after three months as it indicated it would, more than 1,500 union members met September 19 and agreed to wear T-shirts with a message highlighting the company’s profits and expressing workers’ need for a wage that pays their rent, food, transportation and other basic monthly expenses.

The next day, Chhim was detained for hours at the facility and suspended. Union members immediately walked out in support of her. Sithar told Equal Times she then urged her colleagues to continue to work as usual, while organizing subtle protest actions, which included union members wearing pink face masks, black armbands and other markers of solidarity as they enter and exit the tightly guarded checkpoints of the complex.

After the union provided legal notice of the strike, the company continued hiring new workers, providing them accommodation and food in the company’s building and prohibiting them from leaving the facilities or contacting their families, according to the union.

Challenging Environment for Workers

The casino workers’ victory is all the more notable because of the many recent challenges to worker wrights in Cambodia.

Union leaders say amendments to 10 articles in Cambodia’s Law on Trade Unions restrict fundamental union activities. For instance, one amendment deprives unions of their right to hold legal strikes. “[Holding] a legal strike is always difficult, and I think the barriers in the Trade Union Law have actually made it more difficult,” says William Conklin, Solidarity Center Cambodia country director.

Cambodia’s labor rights are currently under intense scrutiny, as the European Union decides whether to rescind the nation’s  preferential trade status that grants Cambodian exports duty-free access into EU markets.

Cambodia Casino Workers Win Big Wage Gains

Cambodia Casino Workers Win Big Wage Gains

Thousands of casino workers at NagaWorld hotel and casino complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, won a wage increase that boosts pay between 18 percent and 30 percent and secured the reinstatement of union president Sithar Chhim, who was suspended from her job in September for defending the right of a union member to wear a shirt with a message that called for higher wages. The agreement also provides a $200 incentive for workers without health insurance and a bonus equal to roughly two months’ salary, says Chhim.

Cambodia, NagaWorld, casino strike, wages, Solidarity Center
Credit: Solidarity Center

Some 5,000 of the 8,000 workers—including dealers, slot machine workers, housekeepers and technicians—struck the casino January 9, and more than 4,000 rallied outside the complex for two days with signs saying “Demanding living wages is a right, not a crime!” and holding placards with photos of Chhim seeking her reinstatement. Chhim, a game floor supervisor, is branch president for the Khmer Employees’ Labor Rights Support Union of NagaWorld.

NagaCorp, a five-hotel resort and casino, has an exclusive, multidecade license to operate in Phnom Penh and reported an estimated $1.8 billion in revenue last year, up from $1.5 billion in 2018. Yet housekeepers are paid $191 per month.

Cambodia, NagaWorld casino strike, police, Solidarity Center
Police at NagaWorld hotel and casino as workers rallied outside. Credit: Solidarity Center

In May, nearly all 4,000 union members signed a petition demanding a wage increase, and the union began negotiations with the employer in June. When the company did not return to the bargaining table after three months as it indicated it would, more than 1,500 union members met September 19 and agreed to wear T-shirts with a message highlighting the company’s profits and expressing workers’ need for a wage that pays their rent, food, transportation and other basic monthly expenses.

The next day, Chhim was detained for hours at the facility and suspended. Union members immediately walked out in support of her. Sithar told Equal Times she then urged her colleagues to continue to work as usual, while organizing subtle protest actions, which included union members wearing pink face masks, black armbands and other markers of solidarity as they enter and exit the tightly guarded checkpoints of the complex.

After the union provided legal notice of the strike, the company continued hiring new workers, providing them accommodation and food in the company’s building and prohibiting them from leaving the facilities or contacting their families, according to the union.

Challenging Environment for Workers

The casino workers’ victory is all the more notable because of the many recent challenges to worker wrights in Cambodia.

Union leaders say amendments to 10 articles in Cambodia’s Law on Trade Unions restrict fundamental union activities. For instance, one amendment deprives unions of their right to hold legal strikes. “[Holding] a legal strike is always difficult, and I think the barriers in the Trade Union Law have actually made it more difficult,” says William Conklin, Solidarity Center Cambodia country director.

Cambodia’s labor rights are currently under intense scrutiny, as the European Union decides whether to rescind the nation’s  preferential trade status that grants Cambodian exports duty-free access into EU markets.

Haiti: Workers Still Struggle 10 Years After Earthquake

Haiti: Workers Still Struggle 10 Years After Earthquake

Ten years after a magnitude 7 earthquake destroyed a large swath of Haiti, killing more than 300,000 people and injuring another 1.5 million, workers and their families have not benefited from the billions in international aid that poured into country after the disaster. Nor has the government’s response—expanding low-wage, garment-sector jobs—alleviated poverty. Instead, they struggle to support their families with wages too low to live on even as escalating prices for fuel and other necessities compound the difficulties in their daily effort to survive.

“Workers live day by day,” says Reginald Lafontant, secretary general of the Groupement Syndicat des Travailleurs Textil pour la Reimportacion d’assemblage (GOSTTRA), a garment worker union and Solidarity Center partner.

In response to ongoing mass protests last fall against fuel and food shortages and government corruption, President Jovenel Moïse increased the minimum wage for garment workers and others in the export manufacturing sector from 420 gourdes a day to 500 gourdes ($5.09) a day. The miniscule increase left workers’ wages at less than 2018 levels because of inflation, and the move infuriated workers, who told Solidarity Center staff that the new wage is not enough to pay for food, transportation, housing, children’s school fees  and medical care.

Workers Need $18.30 a Day to Support Themselves

More than 60 percent of Haitians survive on less $2 a day, and more than 2.5 million people fall below the extreme poverty line of $1.23 per day. The Solidarity Center report, “The High Cost of Low Wages in Haiti,” which tracked living expenses for garment workers from September 2018 through March 2019, recommends the government increase the minimum wage to an estimated $18.30 per day and allow workers to select their own representatives to the country’s tripartite minimum wage committee.

The cost of living in Haiti has increased by 74 percent since the Solidarity Center’s first wage assessment in 2014. Based on the current minimum wage, workers must spend more than half (55 percent) of their take-home pay on work-related transportation and a modest lunch, leaving little else to cover other necessities. Some workers say they can only afford to eat once per day.

The country’s inability to provide basic goods and services affects workers’ job security as well. With no propane available for cooking in the city, businesses last fall put their staff on unpaid leave. Hotels are closing and major airlines have cancelled flights to the country because of the economic and political turmoil, increasing unemployment and choking off income from much-needed tourist dollars. Haitians are outraged that the island has received millions of dollars in aid since the 2010 earthquake, but public services and infrastructure are nearly nonfunctional.

Haiti’s economy, which never recovered after the earthquake and the subsequent cholera outbreak that claimed some 10,000 lives, has worsened over the past three years. The Haiti Advocacy Working Group, which includes the Solidarity Center, is calling for policies that focus on an equitable and livable future and “promote the creation of decent employment that enables Haitian workers to adequately care for themselves and their families.”

Unions are in the forefront of calling for action to address the crisis. More than 40 labor organizations joined a call last fall for vast nationwide legal reforms, including free and fair elections and the resignation of Moïse. More recently, three Solidarity Center partner unions in the garment industry—GOSTTRA, Batay Ouvriye and Centrale Nationale des Ouvriers Haitiens (CNOHA)—rallied to call for better working conditions, the proper management of pension and social security funds, a living wage and government accountability for corruption.

The government failed to hold elections in October, and one-third of the Senate, the entire Chamber of Deputies and all local offices are set to expire in January 2020, setting the stage for a potential constitutional crisis and another round of widespread protests.

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