The law provides most workers with the right to form and join independent unions and to bargain collectively without previous authorization. There were discrepancies between the civil code and the Trade Unions Act regarding trade unions’ acquisition of legal rights. By law trade unions are equal, and the establishment of a trade union does not require government permission.
Human rights groups described the law governing registration of trade unions as excessively complex and bureaucratic and stated that it raised obstacles to registration. Unions reported significant bureaucratic hurdles in the registration process, entailing the payment of multiple fees and requiring visits to as many as 10 different offices. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) characterized the registration requirement as “a restriction unacceptable by international labor standards.” In addition independent unions reported multiple incidents of harassment by local law enforcement while navigating the registration process, including nonstandard requests for documentation and membership information.
The constitution prohibits judges from forming trade unions.
In January an administrative court denied the Zaporizhzhya oblast branch of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (CFTU) status as a legal entity. The CFTU asserted that the court’s decision violated Article 4 of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention number 87, forbidding the dissolution of a trade union by administrative decision.
The constitution grants the right to strike, and by law most workers have the right to strike. There were noteworthy obstacles to calling a strike, however, including the requirement that a large percentage of a workforce vote in favor of striking, a number of poorly defined legal grounds for denying the right to strike, and the prohibition of strikes by specific categories of workers.
In order to call a strike, the law requires that two-thirds of conference delegates, or 50 percent of workers in an enterprise, vote in favor of it, a threshold trade unions considered unfairly high.
The law provides grounds for prohibiting strikes based on subjective criteria. According to the law, a court may prohibit a strike it determines would jeopardize national security, public health, or the rights and liberties of citizens.
The law prohibits strikes in certain sectors. Personnel of the Prosecutor General’s Office, judiciary, armed forces, security services, law enforcement agencies, transportation sector workers, and employees in the public service sector do not have the right to strike. The restriction is part of a public service legislation that came into effect January 1. The law does not distinguish between civil servants that exercise authority in the name of the state and those that do not. Section 293 of the criminal code prohibits transportation workers from undertaking organized actions that seriously disturb public order or significantly disrupt public transport.
While the National Mediation and Reconciliation Service mediates labor disputes, there are no laws or legal mechanisms to prevent antiunion discrimination. The law requires employers to provide justification for layoffs and firings, and union activity is not an acceptable justification. Legal recourse is available for reinstatement, back wages, and punitive damages, although critics described court enforcement as arbitrary and unpredictable.
A 2011 law significantly increased the difficulties faced by smaller and independent unions seeking to take part in tripartite negotiations, participate in social insurance programs, and represent labor at the national and international levels. The law further entrenched the Federation of Trade Unions (FPU), the country’s largest union, and hindered the ability of smaller independent unions to act as effective representatives of their members’ interests. The FPU maintained its membership by absorbing older Soviet-era unions after independence. In an opinion poll published in 2011, the ITUC expressed doubts about the true independence and objectivity of the State Mediation and Reconciliation Service of Ukraine, a body that determines which unions meet the law’s representation criteria.
The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine (CFTU) meets the representation criteria to participate in tripartite negotiations. In September 2012 CFTU Chairman Mykhailo Volynets signed an agreement with the chairs of four other national trade unions, including the FPU, to establish a “joint representation body on the national level for all trade unions.” The agreement provides for participation of independent trade unions, via the confederation, in the tripartite system at the national level.
The government continued to deny unions not affiliated with the FPU a share of disputed trade union assets inherited by the FPU from the Soviet era. The retention of these assets, which include social insurance benefit funds, other financial holdings, trade union halls and offices, and other real estate, gave the FPU a benefit that independent unions cannot offer. Leaders of non-FPU trade unions and some government officials continued to claim that the FPU improperly sold some Soviet-era assets to thwart their future distribution. A 2007 parliamentary moratorium on the FPU’s sale of property remained in place during the year.
Statutory worker-management commissions were not always effective, and enforcement was arbitrary and uneven. Management, or union representatives co-opted by management, at times dominated these commissions. Renouncing membership in an FPU-affiliated union and joining a new union was bureaucratically onerous and typically discouraged by management. Workers who joined different unions complained that FPU-affiliated unions illegally deducted dues from their salaries. Members of CFTU-affiliated unions continued to claim that management sometimes forced them into additional or undesirable work and threatened them with dismissal if they refused to leave their unions.
Discrimination and threats against independent trade unions continued and included numerous alleged instances of employers dismissing trade union activists, leaders, and other workers because of trade union membership or other legally protected activity. In a well-known case in Lviv, local law-enforcement officers detained a coal miner’s husband after the miner brought a case against her employer for wage arrears. They released the husband after the national union publicized the case.
There were several reports that employers pressured union members to leave a CFTU-affiliated union. For example, in February the chair of the CFTU’s primary organization at the Novodruzheska mine, an employee named S. Marchenko, found that the mine’s management prevented him from performing his duties. While Marchenko did not leave the union, 10 other members did. Another employer, Rovenkyantratsyt, reportedly interfered in the activities of a union that was a member of the Independent Trade Union of Miners in the town of Rovenki. According to the union, the company threatened miners in an attempt to force them to leave the independent union.
There were also instances of direct attacks on union organizations, rather than against individual members. In Zaporizhzhya oblast, the CFTU’s trade union was liquidated as a result of a questionable court ruling. The court justified its decision to force liquidation based on a late tax declaration submission. Trade union entities, as nonprofit organizations without business activity, normally are not required to submit these types of specific tax documents.
Print and broadcast media, trade unions, and social media noted extraordinary pressure on workers either to compel or prevent their participation in the massive “EuroMaidan” demonstrations in Kyiv and across the country in November and December. One union leader noted that representatives of employers threatened to dismiss a number of his members attempting to travel to Kyiv in support of opposition rallies. He alleged that some employers tipped off law enforcement, which then harassed workers and their families to compel them not to participate in demonstrations. There were multiple reports of Kyiv-bound auto convoys, buses, and trains being delayed, stopped, or canceled.
There were also reports alleging that state-owned businesses and progovernment private businesses were expected to provide attendees for counter rallies; they often threatened workers to ensure participation. One union leader noted that local governments asked coalmines to provide salary, transport, and expenses for specific numbers of workers to attend a progovernment rally. Multiple news sources reported about convoys arranged by public enterprises for employees who were paid to attend. Also common were reports of such workers not receiving their promised compensation. In a Donetsk enterprise, managers reportedly asked workers who refused to support a local counterdemonstration on December 14-15 to submit their resignations.
There were also several cases of companies, private and state-owned, not honoring collective bargaining agreements during bankruptcies. In one highly publicized case, airline workers and their unions accused Ukrainian air carrier Aerosvit of ignoring collective bargaining agreements and trade union demands. The carrier fired employees and halted wage payments in violation of existing agreements, resulting in the accumulation of huge wage arrears. From the start of bankruptcy proceedings, 2,300 of 2,547 positions were eliminated. Trade union employees petitioned the Presidential Administration, Prosecutor General’s Office and the cabinet of ministers for redress. Unions filed hundreds of court cases in Kyiv and oblast courts. The courts did not consider the cases, delayed ruling, or ruled against the workers. The aviation trade unions continued to pursue the nonoperating airline in courts, while the CFTU submitted a complaint to the ILO and International Labor Confederation.
In May small ad hoc groups of retired Chernobyl cleanup workers that were not associated with any traditional unions petitioned the cabinet of ministers in Kyiv to protest a constitutional court ruling reducing their retirement and social benefits and demand that these benefits be returned. Ministry of Social Policy representative met with protesters, but could not meet their demands in full, citing budget constraints.