Europe & Central Asia

In Europe and Central Asia, the Solidarity Center helps unions defend worker rights, promote legal reform and adherence to international labor standards and help workers gain their rightful voice in the political and economic processes.

The economy throughout the region has been buffeted by the sluggish Euro-zone economy, where European Union policy since 2008 has promoted harsh fiscal “austerity” that has deepened and lengthened the economic crisis. The region’s economy also is tied in with the Russian economy, which is heavily dependent upon the energy market.

Further, workers have seen rollbacks in workplace protections and social benefits and diminished benefits under collective bargaining agreements as a result of the International Monetary Fund’s push for a radical free-market approach.

With fewer formal economy jobs available, workers throughout the region increasingly seek jobs in the low-wage informal economy, where workplace protections are few or non-existent. In Ukraine alone, informal economy jobs accounted for more than 22 percent of total employment in 2009.

Other workers are forced to migrate to find a job. With Russia, Ukraine has the second largest migration corridor in the world, and labor migration within the region continues to grow, especially as more Ukrainians, Moldovans and southeastern Europeans seek employment in western Europe. In addition, Central Asian workers increasingly are migrating to Russia.

Throughout the region, governments have considered or implemented civil society restrictions modeled in part on the Russian government’s harsh limits on the freedom of civil society organizations that oppose government policies. Unions are frequently under attack by both employers and governments.

In this increasingly repressive climate, women and LGBT workers have been especially hard-hit. Protections and social benefits for women in the workplace have been rolled back and violence against women on the job is widely denied or ignored. LGBT workers are routinely denied protection from workplace discrimination, and are frequently subjected to violence that is ignored by police and other government authorities.

The Solidarity Center, cooperating with trade unions and other civil society allies in the region, offer a bulwark against these trends as we work to strengthen the economic power of workers and achieve more equitable economic development throughout the region. Solidarity Center programs also promote democratic political reforms that encourage participation of workers and their families in the political process, strengthening the role of unions as a fundamental segment of civil society.