In a significant assault on worker rights in Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelensky last week signed into law legislation that deprives around 73 percent of workers of their right to union protection and collective bargaining.
“For more than 15 months, the Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine, in solidarity with other trade unions, with support of the international community, actively opposed promotion of the anti-labor draft law,” the Federation (FPU) said in a statement.
The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (KVPU) stated, “KVPU will not tolerate a blatant violation of the rights of workers, their constitutional guarantees and international norms and standards. We will continue the fight for workers’ rights.”
The law references “freedom of contract,” which the non-governmental organization Labor Initiatives says “provides ample room for employers to prescribe literally any provisions in a contract, while workers, desperate for jobs during a pandemic, will likely accept such provisions.” Labor Initiatives is a Solidarity Center partner that works closely with unions and other NGOs, analyzes labor laws and advocates for worker rights at the individual and national levels.
The law applies to Ukrainian companies with fewer than 250 workers, and is valid during martial law in Ukraine, but labor experts express concern that it may be extended.
The law, which amended the Labor Code of Ukraine, is the latest in a string of legislation targeting worker rights and the ability of unions to function freely. For the past two years, lobbyists have pushed laws in Parliament that reduce wages, limit the use of formal contracts that ensure workers have job stability and weaken their collective voice by targeting unions. Under the restrictions of martial law and the chaos of war, members of Parliament have passed many of these measures.
“Instead of having some greater protection of labor rights, greater protection of the people who are baking bread, washing dishes or cleaning the streets, since March we faced very regressive labor reform in Ukraine,” George Sandul, a Kyiv-based labor lawyer, said on the latest episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast, where he detailed the laws.
The FPU points out that in 2021, the European Parliament indicated as part of the European Union–Ukraine Association Agreement that Ukraine’s “measures to improve the business climate, attract direct investment and promote economic development cannot be implemented at the expense of limiting workers’ rights and worsening working conditions.”
With martial law prohibiting workers from public protest and strikes, the FPU, KVPU and other Ukrainian trade unions say they will challenge the law in Ukraine’s Constitutional Court, the International Labor Organization and other international and European bodies.
“We will also vigorously oppose dozens of other anti-labor and anti-union pieces of legislation that government lobbyists are trying to push through the Parliament,” the FPU says.
Excessive heat, flooding and pollution are some of the negative environmental effects a majority of garment workers in Cambodia say they have experienced in their factories, resulting in lost pay, illness and other hardships, according to a new study examining the toll of climate change on workers in the garment industry.
“What we’re seeing now is that during the rainy season, factories will be flooded, and floods cut off roads so workers cannot commute to the workplace,” says Sina Pav, president of the Collective Union of the Movement of Workers (CUMW), which represents more than 30 local garment worker unions. CUMW negotiated an agreement with employers in which workers receive 50 percent of their pay when factories close due to flooding, but nonunionized workers typically receive no wages for the days or even weeks a factory is closed.
Lost pay is especially burdensome for workers in precarious jobs: Even before the recent surge in inflation, garment workers’ wages failed to keep up with the cost of living, with their minimum wage at $194 per month.
Climate Change: Far-Reaching Effects on Workers
While the impact of climate change is more obvious for agricultural workers and others who make their living outdoors, the report makes clear that escalating heat, pollution and rain adversely affect workers in a range of jobs.
“It was not sizzling like this in the past, 10 years ago,” says Sarath, a union representative in a Kandal factory, quoted in the report. “Nowadays, it is burning from 9 a.m. In Cambodia, we have flooding and many other things … the weather has changed dramatically.”
Some 22 percent of Cambodian garment workers experiencing heat stress reported that it compromised their ability to work, and 6 percent said they had missed work as a result of excess heat, according to the report. As workers suffer, the survey finds a 2.75 percent reduction in overall productivity which, if extrapolated across the country, would translate to an average annual $290 million reduction in Cambodia’s value of export goods.
Climate Change Harshest in Poor Working Conditions
Poor working conditions exacerbate the effects of climate change. In a key finding, the report says workers on fixed-term contracts are substantially more likely to perceive temperature changes than workers on unlimited duration contracts (85 percent versus 47 percent).
Employers frequently keep workers on short-term, fixed-duration contracts, in many cases using loopholes to allow them to do so for longer than the legally permitted time, or firing workers before they would be legally required to move onto undetermined duration contracts. With no job security, workers on short-term contracts fear they will lose their jobs if they join unions, which have worked to address health and safety issues related to climate change long before issues of excessive heat and flooding had a name.
“Climate change put a label on what we understood. These are not new issues for the union,” says Pav. “I think people can generally agree it is getting quite hotter, but more important, we want the employer to be aware of and address the issues.”
CMUW has been working with garment employers to address heat by adding exhaust fans, insulation and cooling systems to factories. Government also has a role, he says, in providing proper infrastructure such as functioning sewage systems. Key to moving solutions are the fashion brands that contract with factories.
“Brands have an important role to urge implemention and prevent climate change,” he said, citing how the recent involvement of a fashion brand sped up what had been protracted negotiations with a garment factory owner over heat mitigation.
Haitian garment workers scored a huge victory as a coalition of unions negotiated an agreement with the government to provide garment workers in Port-Au-Prince with transportation and food stipends.
“In our struggle for a better working environment and fair wages we have always emphasized that the government should provide social support to workers, especially those in the textile sector. And here it is for the first time that our demands have been heard, even if it is not yet in effect, but the government has planned to accompany the workers by offering them transportation and food costs for an amount of 135,000,000 gourdes ($1,116,595),” said Telemarque Pierre, coordinator of SOTA- Batay Ouvriye.
“From now on, we would like the government to take care to include these accompaniments in the annual budgets so that the workers can always benefit from these advantages.”
The government will distribute the funds via a mobile app. The stipend will cover the cost of travel to and from the factory, and include a lunch stipend. Inflation and gang violence have led to skyrocketing prices for food and fuel such that workers cannot afford travel to and from work or food at lunchtime.
The agreement underscores the importance and effectiveness of unions in improving the lives of workers.
“We can say now that every time there is a problem, the workers come to the union because they always find that the unions are a real help,” said Eliacin Wilner, GOSTTRA organizer.
Unions are working to ensure that workers are aware of the program and able to access their benefits.
The agreement is the result of minimum wage protests by garment workers in January 2022. Fueled by frustration over three years without a minimum wage increase and the rising cost of basic necessities and services, workers at the SONAPI industrial park in Port-Au-Prince held a spontaneous protest to call for a wage increase.
The protests led to negotiations between the government and a coalition of nine textile unions. The coalition’s advocacy resulted in an increase of the minimum wage from 500 gourdes ($4.82) per day to 685 gourdes ($5.85) per day.
Solidarity Center studies repeatedly have demonstrated the daily minimum wage is far less than the estimated cost of living in Haiti. Significant job losses due to supply chain disruptions have left most garment workers facing diminished working hours or layoffs, threatening their ability to provide for their families. These periods of income precarity are especially dire given that most low-wage garment workers lack savings.
Even as war rages in Ukraine, with daily bombings, food and medicine shortages and tens of thousands of displaced people crowded in cramped public spaces, the Ukrainian Parliament recently passed a series of laws that attack workers’ basic rights on the job and undermine the ability of unions to freely function.
“Instead of having some greater protection of labor rights, greater protection of the people who are baking bread, washing dishes or cleaning the streets, since March we faced very regressive labor reform in Ukraine,” says George Sandul, a Kyiv-based labor lawyer, on the latest episode of The Solidarity Center Podcast.
Sandul outlined a series of laws parliament recently pushed through as martial law limited the ability of union members to strike or protest the changes, and as many unions and their members are focused on providing humanitarian assistance.
‘Unions in Ukraine have literally invested everything to support their country—union offices and labor halls have become shelters and refugee support centers. In some cases, unions have even donated all their money,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director and Podcast Host Shawna Bader-Blau.
“And in return for their heroism, sacrifice and commitment to country, big business and their allies in parliament want to slash workers’ collective rights to bargain for better wages.”
Despite often heroic efforts to deliver food under war conditions, Bolt delivery drivers in Kyiv, Ukraine, have seen a 60 percent cut in wages—and they are demanding the company take immediate action to boost wages and provide vehicle maintenance support.
Prohibited from striking while Ukraine is under martial law, the delivery drivers gathered recently at Bolt’s office in Kyiv to present the company with their demands, which include an increase in minimum payments from 84 cents per order to $1.36 per order, and a boost in per-kilometer pay from 24 cents to 41 cents to compensate for the rise in inflation.
“Our wages have been cut to the minimum,” a driver stated at the gathering. “Now they are trying to force us to work for pennies. It is almost impossible to feed one person on such a wage.”
Another driver said he must “work 14 hours a day, 27 days a month” to survive.
The app-based workers also are urging the company to provide free or low-cost repair and maintenance for their vehicles, most of which are bicycles and motorbikes.
“Bolt Food does not compensate our work expenses in any way,” a driver said. “We bear the risks ourselves. We have to maintain transport at our own expense, we have to pay for fuel, spare parts—and all prices just skyrocketed but our wages were further reduced. These costs reach 70 to 75 percent of income at current prices.”
In addition, workers want Bolt to re-open several app features, such as one that enables drivers to see the client’s address before they accept the job. If the restaurant where they pick up the food is only a few blocks from the client, they only are paid for the short distance from the restaurant to the client’s location, even if they drive miles to get to the restaurant.
The company’s cutback in wages comes as more than one-third of jobs in Ukraine have been lost since the beginning of the war in February, according to an International Labor Organization report in May. The ILO projected job losses to reach 7 million, or 43.5 percent of the workforce, if the war continues.
Even as the war has decimated jobs and the economy, Ukraine’s parliament passed a law that would significantly erode employees’ rights in areas covering working hours, working conditions, dismissal and compensation after dismissal. The law makes it legal to fire employees who are on sick leave or vacation and allows employers to increase the work week from 40 hours to 60 hours, shorten holidays and cancel additional vacation days. A union’s rights also would be severely curtailed and employers would have the right to unilaterally cancel collective bargaining agreements.
Lawmakers say the legislation would apply only during war. But George Sandul, a lawyer with the Ukrainian worker rights organization Labor Initiatives, says unions and legal experts fear the law will not be revoked.
The legislation did not stem from the war. Similar proposals were pushed months before Russia invaded Ukraine, with the parliamentary committee for social policies and the Ministry of Economy pressing to radically change labor law to favor employers and restrict union rights.
The trafficking of agriculture workers, including children, is widespread globally, and “practices of exceptionalism” limit workers’ rights to freedom of association, organizing and collective bargaining, according to a new report on trafficking in persons in agriculture from United Nations Special Rapporteur Siobhán Mullally.
“Characterized by high levels of informality, lack of oversight and protection, trafficking in persons remains a serious concern within the agricultural sector, affecting both adults and children,” she writes.
The report notes that while the COVID-19 pandemic saw agricultural workers designated as “essential,” worker protections did not follow. Indeed, temporary, seasonal and migrant workers are provided limited legal coverage, and restrictive migration policies persist despite the demand for agricultural workers.
Discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, migration status, gender and disability creates conditions within which trafficking occurs with impunity.
Land inequality, particularly affecting women and girls, drives exploitation, including trafficking for forced labor.
The agriculture sector employs an estimated 28 percent of the total global labor force and an estimated 60 percent of the labor force in low-income countries. Because it is characterized by high levels of informal and seasonal employment, the risks of exploitation are also high.
Discrimination based on migration status leaves workers vulnerable to trafficking.
Gender inequality in land ownership and tenure contributes to poverty, dependency and risks of violence, including trafficking of women and girls. Women are estimated to make up 20 percent of the world’s landholders but account for 43 percent of agricultural workers.
Indigenous women and girls may experience increased risks of trafficking due to the intersection of discrimination and violence, based on gender, race, ethnicity, indigenous origin and poverty.
People with disabilities may be particularly at risk of trafficking in agricultural work, where there is limited oversight and monitoring of worker rights.
Agriculture is the entry point for child labor, accounting for 76.6 percent in child laborers ages 5-11 and 75.8 percent in children ages 12-14. Children who travel with parents migrating for work often miss out on their education, as well.
The Special Rapporteur also highlighted that recruitment practices for the sector–particularly of seasonal, temporary and migrant workers–increase risks of trafficking for forced labor. Recruitment processes and substantial recruitment and other fees often lead to debt bondage.
Meanwhile, “intensive agriculture and agribusinesses contribute negatively to climate change, reflecting the wider nexus between trafficking in persons, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity and the climate crisis,” she writes.
The protection of all workers and their families “is essential to prevent trafficking,” she says, urging governments to, among other urgent actions: “Strengthen the capacity of trade unions, civil society organizations and human rights defenders to support agricultural workers, including through effective protection of rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly and to collective organizing and collective bargaining, without discrimination.”
The Special Rapporteur’s report was bolstered by a submission from the Solidarity Center related to the conditions for migrant workers in Jordan’s agriculture sector. The submission noted:
Migrant workers work very long hours in hazardous conditions that lack occupational, safety and health (OSH) standards, medical care and overtime compensation. Forced overtime is an indicator of forced labor under ILO standards. The agricultural sector in general is an informal economy sector, and the work is usually temporary or seasonal. Agricultural areas are isolated and far from service centers; therefore, agricultural workers who suffer from labor and human rights violations do not have access to justice. Forced labor and wage theft are common violations, although usually not reported because of limited access to justice, absence of labor inspection and fears of retaliation and other threats workers face, especially undocumented or irregular workers. Because these workers were not recognized as workers under Jordanian labor law until May 2021, they lacked access to labor courts and were forced to file complaints through civil courts, which do not exempt court fees, making this an inaccessible complaint process for agricultural workers.
The kafala system requires migrant workers to be fully reliant on their employers for legal status. In the case that an employer does not renew a work permit, the worker is punished with deportation and a ban from returning to Jordan for three years. Workers are often deported without receiving their owed wages and other compensation–a form of wage theft, which is also an ILO indicator of forced labor. In cases where agricultural workers leave a workplace to escape harassment, rights violations and forced labor without reporting such violations, they are subject to an overstay fine, which is 1.5 Jordanian dinars per day (approximately $2) and they are subject to detention and false or retaliatory theft accusations by their employers, essentially becoming undocumented workers. Migrant workers rarely if ever report violations, fearing employer harassment or retaliation. Undocumented workers are victims of exploitation by brokers and fixers who charge excessive fees for work permits. A Syrian woman worker said, “Syrian agricultural workers’ wages are the lowest not because they accept to work for low wages but because the shaweesh (the middleman) takes a percentage of their wages.”
The Special Rapporteur’s report cited these examples and supported the Solidarity Center’s conclusion in its submission: “Trade unions are important to combat forced labor and other forms of labor trafficking and exploitation, and to raise workers’ awareness about their rights and the available services and access to justice channels.
“The explicit exclusion of both migrant workers and workers in the agricultural sector is a violation of these workers’ fundamental right to freedom of association under the Constitution of Jordan and international human and labor rights as enshrined in the ICCPR, ICESCR and ILO Conventions 87 and 98. The right to freedom of association is fundamental in a workers’ ability to advocate for her/his own rights, protect themselves from forced labor, and ensure protections from GBVH, and other occupational hazards.”
Privacy & Cookies Policy
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.