In Ukraine, the Esopian language is used to dismantle the social protection of workers



The integration of language and concepts such as “liberalization”, “deregulation”, “de-bureaucratization” and “optimization” is on the agenda in the current socio-economic and legal landscape of Ukraine. . This tendency is even more pronounced in the Ukrainian parliament (the Verkhovna Rada). There you will not find words like “social justice”, “social dialogue”, “decent work” or “equality” in modern bills. To the most ardent representatives of neoliberalism who fill these chambers, these words are considered Soviet-style anachronism. “The market will arrange everything and regulate everything! they are crying. After all, capitalism is just a “sober calculation of net profit.”

And it is these words and ideas that are widely used in new legislative acts and administrative documents that change the legal framework of the social state of Ukraine to the point of becoming unrecognizable. Since the country gained independence in 1991, an Esopian language form has been created in Ukrainian jurisprudence, designed to hide the true meaning of the adopted documents, as well as the true intentions of their authors and sponsors.

As a slave, Aesop – the ancient Greek fabulist and storyteller renowned for his eponymous collection of fables – could not directly point out the masters’ shortcomings in his stories, so he replaced their images with those of animals with appropriate characteristics. . In present-day Ukraine, the government cannot directly declare its intention to eliminate the welfare state and the secular gains of the working class and is therefore forced to use deliberately misleading language and double talk.

In literature, the Esopian language has been used since the end of the 18th century to circumvent censorship. In the development of modern laws, it is used to pass bills aimed at restricting the rights of certain segments of the population, thus becoming an integral part of the practice of preparing legislative acts without any reluctance from the general public. Therefore, it is up to unions and other parts of civil society to reveal the veiled meaning of these alarming bills. Until recently, the development of labor and social legislation in Ukraine has proceeded without destroying the foundations established by previous laws. But with the transfer of state assets into the hands of oligarchic capital following the massive privatization of public entities, quantitative changes turned into qualitative changes, leading to the gradual dismantling of social protection.

One of the main reasons for the destruction of the welfare state was the government’s failure to promote people-centered policies that also produce economic growth, the implementation of which would ensure the stability of the state, l national unity and good cooperation between civil society and government. Instead, each successive government claims that there is not enough money in the public purse, and therefore the cuts in government spending are getting bigger and bigger.

The turbo liberalization project

Today Ukraine is one of the poorest states in Europe and the most polarized in terms of the income gap between rich and poor. The only solution that is offered is to liberalize everything – the economy, labor, social policy. Each citizen must take care of himself. The state owes nothing to anyone, argue the neoliberals. The first attempts to “liberalize the turbo” in 2020 were stopped thanks to the actions of national unions with strong international support. As a result, the government abandoned massive attempts to liberalize the labor code, resorting instead to targeted changes.

However, the liberalization project has not been abandoned. The forces simply regrouped and proposed former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who now heads the executive committee of the National Reform Council of Ukraine. With his regional office of Simple Solutions, Saakashvili works to help Ukraine “Overcome the deadly resistance of the bureaucracy against the projects we propose” by drafting bills on legal, tax and labor reforms.

The results of these efforts can be seen with bill n ° 5371 which was proposed in April 2021. It apparently seeks to “simplify the regulation of labor relations” but this sentence hides its real objective: to introduce a new contractual regime for workers in small and medium-sized enterprises with fewer than 250 people. If the bill is passed, all working conditions will be determined by an employment contract, not by labor law.

Ukraine is following in the footsteps of Belarus and Georgia, which in 1999 and 2006 resorted to widespread transition to short-term individual employment contracts, respectively, which are an inefficient form of employment relationships and are rarely used elsewhere in the country. the world.

In Belarus, for example, despite high employment levels, almost 90 percent of workers have fixed-term employment contracts due to a presidential decree. This authoritarian approach to the regulation of labor relations has been strongly criticized by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the international trade union movement. Therefore, Belarus was excluded of the European Union’s general system of trade preferences for its violation of workers’ rights.

As for Georgia, following the introduction of brutal labor reforms by libertarian Saakashvili, unofficial data suggests that up to 1.6 million people have left the country, which is a huge number for a country of only 3.7 million inhabitants. It was not until 2020 that Georgian parliamentarians decided to reverse some of the most egregious aspects of labor reforms introduced almost 15 years ago.

In the current discussions on the future of work, as noted at the ILO 100th anniversary conference, respect for workers’ rights is underlined as being at the heart of economic development. However, various European governments are changing their labor codes to deprive workers of social gains. In France, for example, controversial labor market reforms were carried out in 2017 and changed the conditions of fixed-term contracts, mechanisms for settling disputes between employers and employees and limited the amount of compensation. pecuniary possible in the event of dismissal of an employee.

The Ukrainian version of the labor law amendment was prepared in the spirit of the IMF and World Bank-inspired reforms that took place in Georgia 15 years ago, but it fails to recognize the need for the state to create an appropriate institutional framework that maintains a balance between flexibility for companies and respect for workers’ rights in the context of the globalized economy, digitization, teleworking and other trends in the modern labor market.

Open a Pandora’s Box

Without a doubt, the authors of these amendments understand that these bills do not respect international labor standards, and therefore hide them in veiled language. On June 2, 2021, the Verkhovna Rada adopted on first reading bill n ° 3515 “On amendments to certain legislative acts of Ukraine concerning the settlement of issues of formation of a living wage and the creation of preconditions for its increase”. According to the explanatory note attached to it, the purpose of this bill is to guarantee the constitutional right of citizens to an adequate standard of living. But in fact, if passed, this law will end the scientifically based definition of a living wage as a social norm, disrupting all other norms that flow from it, like minimum pensions and social benefits. It will affect all segments of the population.

Another example is Bill “On the safety and health of workers at work”. The terminology used in this bill departs from concepts used internationally, particularly with regard to occupational health and safety. This bill simply reduces the level of protection for workers and deprives workers of the right to benefits and compensation for working under difficult working conditions guaranteed by the laws in force.

By declaring, on the one hand, that human labor is a key resource, and by engaging in a race to the bottom in their quest for the maximum reduction of labor rights, state intervention and social norms of On the other hand, the authors of these bills are opening a Pandora’s Box.

After all, by restricting the rights of workers to organize, to bargain collectively and to strike, it is possible to bring the situation to a point where workers lose patience and an unexpected and uncontrollable explosion of social unrest occurs. The dismantling of social protection could also lead to a further increase in labor migration, in addition to the five million Ukrainians who have already left the country to seek better working conditions and better wages in the country. foreigner. What is the point of bringing investments to Ukraine if there is no one to work in the shoddy jobs it creates? Already, there are fewer people paying pension contributions in Ukraine than there are retirees. What’s next for a state of 42 million people? With such social baggage, the guarantee of social protection is not only a question of principle, it is a question of national security.


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