Ukraine: Domestic Workers Organize for Recognition, Dignity

Ukraine: Domestic Workers Organize for Recognition, Dignity

In a first for Ukraine, in-home childcare workers including nannies and babysitters organized and then elected domestic worker Tetiana Lauhina to head their new labor organization, Union of Home Staff (UHS).

“[My colleagues] are amazingly hard-working and well-educated. I want all of them to be recognized as workers and officially protected,” says Lauhina in a video interview.

The Union of Home Staff (UHS), formed by 17 domestic worker activists, will vigorously advocate with Ukraine’s lawmakers and government to ensure protections for domestic workers and formalization as workers under the country’s labor law.

As an outgrowth of nongovernmental organization Union of Home Staff (UHS), the new union will continue to use its allied organization’s name and acronym, UHS, expanding its services as an information hub and community center, including for its 1,800 Facebook members. 

Ukraine’s first nationwide survey of domestic workers last year found that working without contracts and formal recognition had left most survey respondents victims of low pay, wage theft, confusion about employment status, exclusion from the country’s pension system and minimal capacity to exercise their right to freedom of association. And, without legal formalization as workers, Ukraine’s domestic workers lack access to care rights and services for themselves and their families—including maternity and child benefits, long-term care services and disability compensation for workers who die or are injured in their employers’ homes.

“[The domestic worker] is not secure and she is nobody for the state,” says Lauhina.

Because women account for three-quarters of the 75.6 million domestic workers globally, domestic worker rights are key to the achievement of gender equality. On International Women’s Day this year, the ILO issued a new policy brief urging governments and employers’ organizations to ensure that domestic workers have access to labor rights and social protections.

Nongovernmental organization UHS was formed in 2019 with support from Ukraine labor rights nongovernmental organization Labor Initiatives (LI) and the Solidarity Center to raise awareness about labor rights challenges for Ukraine’s care economy workers and support the country’s legislative efforts to formalize domestic work.



When workers can “speak up, articulate and manifest collective agency that ultimately improves the terms and conditions of their employment and their livelihoods,” they also have a role in shaping their societies and “contributing to democratic participation beyond the workplace,” says a new report released today by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB).

Worker Voice: What it is, What it is Not, and Why it Matters,” was produced by Penn State University’s Center for Global Workers’ Rights (CGWR).

“The term ‘worker voice’ is used for lots of scenarios where workers have some sort of participation but not necessarily a say in issues that affect their lives and livelihoods,” said Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau. “If you care about democracy and worker rights, this is the seminal report.”

For example, corporate social responsibility programs that interview workers on site, under the helpful gaze of management, may provide a public relations boost to the company but do not capture worker voice; indeed, they often contribute to wage suppression and gloss over lax safety standards. Likewise, workplace suggestion boxes, which require zero response from management, neither provide workers with a voice nor help them ensure dignity and equity on the job.    

“The most effective forms of worker voice are institutions and mechanisms that enhance workers’ ability to elect, represent, protect, include, enable and empower workers and their organizations,” according to the report, which highlighted democratic trade unions and collective bargaining as key.

Legitimate and effective channels for worker voice exist and include enforceable brand agreements (EBAs), such as the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which identified and remediated 97,235 high-risk fire, structural and electrical safety violations following the deadly collapse of Rana Plaza. In Lesotho, where brand-led, voluntary codes of conduct failed to address rampant gender-based violence and harassment, binding and enforceable agreements among unions, civil society, international clothing brands and worker rights organizations (including the Solidarity Center) and Nien Hsing, a garment manufacturer, are changing attitudes, protecting workers and helping to end violence and harassment on the job.

In addition, the report cites the Rapid Response Labor Mechanism, under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which has provided expedited enforcement of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights at factories in Mexico for more than 30,000 workers. Other channels include organizing along migration corridors and among domestic and farm workers; and freedom of association protocols. 

The report describes six components that are crucial for effective worker voice: election of representatives; representation of members; diversity in leadership, on committees and throughout organizations; protection of workers from anti-union discrimination, harassment, threats and violence; the enabling of worker organizations to carry out functions by ensuring members have time, space, information and training; empowerment of workers and their organizations to engage in protected trade union activities, including collective bargaining and strikes, by leveraging state and private mechanisms that have sanction power on employers.

The report’s case studies include many countries and sectors where the Solidarity Center has long-term partnerships with unions that provide effective worker voice, among them, Bangladesh, Honduras, Lesotho, Mexico and Myanmar.

Recognizing the importance of democratic freedoms in securing effective worker voice, the Solidarity Center has long partnered with unions fighting for their right to democratic freedoms, including freedom of association and of assembly. These efforts include the historic 2023 Zambia Summit for Democracy, where participating unions and governments shared strategies on how unions can advance democracy through one of its most essential components—worker rights—and Solidarity Center support for union partners fighting for their rights in Bahrain, the Philippines, Swaziland and Tunisia.

Report: Legal Strategies Deny Gig Worker Rights

Report: Legal Strategies Deny Gig Worker Rights

Gig economy companies employ multiple strategies that undermine gig worker rights around the world, according to a new issue brief by the International Lawyers Assisting Workers (ILAW) Network, a project of the Solidarity Center.

Taken for a Ride: Litigating the Digital Platform Model,” released today, analyzes how companies such as Deliveroo, Foodora and Uber deprive couriers and drivers of their basic employment rights globally.

“The collection of cases analyzed in this report reveals the extraordinary extent to which these companies are embroiled in litigation around the world,” write co-authors Nicola Countouris, labor law professor at University College London (UCL) and research department director for the European Trade Union Institute (ETUI), and Jason Moyer-Lee, a fellow at Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.

The brief details a string of losses for gig economy companies, including before the highest courts of France, Spain and the United Kingdom, and in lower tribunals from South Korea to Uruguay. Such worker victories have come at great cost and, due to weak enforcement regimes, gig economy companies often do not extend rights even after losing cases, concludes the report.

In countries where companies have seen more success—such as South Africa and the United States—the analysis shows how gig economy employers have deployed multiple tactics to pull off the victories, such as forcing workers into arbitration, making them sign complex and convoluted contracts, or relying on an international corporate structure.

The brief recommends gig workers pursue strategic litigation, complemented by collective action, campaigning and communications strategies targeted at local lawmakers, with a special focus on enforcement. And governments, the brief states, “must proactively and rigorously enforce the law,” while applying penalties stiff enough to dissuade unlawful behavior.

“These companies have gone to great lengths to insulate themselves from responsibility and have put an extraordinary burden on workers to claim their basic rights at work. Governments must step in now and enact legislation that protects the rights of all workers providing labor to a digital platform company,” says Solidarity Center Rule of Law Department Director and ILAW Network co-founder, Jeffrey Vogt.

The report was made possible with funding from the Ford Foundation.

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