Labour rights and social justice are central to the Ukraine we are fighting for!

This article by Oksana Holota, representative of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine and lawyer, is based on a talk she gave at the Solidarity With Ukraine conference in London on 11 March

Good evening, everyone. I am grateful for the invitation to this event, where such important issues as social justice, freedom, and democracy are discussed. All these things should be among the values of modern civilised society – and thousands of Ukrainians are dying for these same values.

When each of you takes a deeper look into the history of Ukraine, you will realise that Ukrainians throughout their history have always stood for a democratic society, respect for human rights and freedoms, for the free development of the Ukrainian language and culture, and national self-determination.

Ukrainians have never attacked anyone. We have only defended ourselves. Unfortunately, now, in the 21st century, Russia has attacked Ukraine. Russia is demolishing both civilian and energy infrastructure; Russia is destroying businesses, factories and entire cities; Russia is purposefully destroying historical monuments and national symbols.

The Russian occupiers are torturing, raping, and shooting people only for saying “Glory to Ukraine”. Thousands of Ukrainians have died, many of them children.

Ukrainians are once again forced to fight for their right to live in an independent and democratic Ukraine.

Today, Ukrainians are giving their lives not only to defend their homeland, but also for the values that many in the world are also asserting, including the right to social justice.

Before the full-scale invasion, as a member of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine, I helped to establish new trade unions, including for medical workers. As a lawyer, I defended in court the rights of workers to receive their salaries and social benefits as provided for by law.

The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine has always stood for timely payment of salaries, and for decent working conditions for all workers.

During the war, there were changes to labour legislation in Ukraine. Some social guarantees were removed, wages were reduced, working hours were increased. It was made possible to dismiss employees at the initiative of the employer, or to transfer employees to another job without their consent and the consent of the trade union.

We realise that Ukraine is at war and, first of all, we need to win this war. We do not doubt that we will win. But right now we also have to realise what other challenges Ukraine will face when the war is over; what will happen with the Ukrainian labour market after the war.

The main aspect of any modern economy is human capital. In Ukraine now, due to the war, the demographic crisis has increased significantly,

More than 100,000 people have been killed, and many women and children have been forced to leave Ukraine. Russia illegally took many children to Russia. And we need to talk about this: we need international assistance for the return of these children.

Many Ukrainians have lost their homes. Due to the fact that many businesses and factories were destroyed by Russia, many people lost their jobs.

After the end of the war, Ukraine expects that there will be many veterans and disabled people.

All this and many other challenges await Ukraine after our victory.

We are all well aware that social justice will be fully realised only if Ukraine’s economic potential grows; when employees have decent working conditions and can receive a decent salary.

And now we have to think about how we are going to build Ukraine, and how we are going to create a new powerful economy based on social relations – an economy that aims to achieve real well-being of people.

To do this, first of all, it is necessary to establish a new powerful social policy.

The important questions to consider are:

  • How Ukrainians will be encouraged to return home from abroad; and
  • How to provide people with work, housing,physical and psychological rehabilitation and new education.

The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine, along with providing humanitarian aid to the East of the country, is already monitoring all changes to the labour legislation of Ukraine.

Today, we observe how some politicians in Ukraine want to suggest to the Ukrainian parliament to adopt changes to labour laws that do not comply with international labour standards and the principles of social dialogue.

These changes amount to the establishment of a dictatorship by employers. They include the reduction of workers’ rights in any industry; a transition to individual labour contracts; and giving employers the ability to change unilaterally the essential terms and conditions of employment, and dismiss employees.

They want to destroy the trade union movement, thus leaving workers unprotected. They want to deny workers the right to social justice.

We are trying to give these problems publicity. We appeal to all international organisations, including the International Labour Organisation, for support and assistance.

We are trying to resist the reduction of workers’ rights in any sector, and to reach a consensus with the authorities to improve labour legislation, in accordance with European Union and ILO standards. We believe that only through social dialogue between the government, business, civil society and the trade unions, and respect for civil society and unions, can the goals of social justice in Ukraine be realised.

We hope for further support from the democratic world in rebuilding Ukraine. We also look forward to working with international trade union movements to defend the rights of Ukrainian workers to decent working conditions and the right to decent pay.

We look forward to your continued solidarity, support and assistance. We alway stands for the protection of the rights and interests of workers, and the observance of social justice by the authorities.

In conclusion, we would like to emphasise that Ukraine has chosen the democratic path of development. Today, Ukraine defends the whole of Europe.

That is why the issue of helping to defend Ukraine’s independence, and restoring it, is not only of interest to individual states, but also a choice for each country: to make a significant contribution to the development of new security arrangements in a world where there is no place for the horror that Russia is currently causing.

Each of us must realise that the future existence of the democratic order in Europe and the world depends on the winner of this war. Only when we are all united, unwavering, and strong, can we destroy Russian aggression and become victorious!

Thank you for your attention. Glory to Ukraine!