State in­dus­tries hold cards in col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing

Kyiv Post Legal Quarterly - - News - By koven­sky@kyivpost.com

Ac­cord­ing to Ukraine’s largest em­ploy­ers and their at­tor­neys, the Soviet Union may have suc­ceeded in creat­ing a worker’s par­adise – at least in terms of la­bor laws.

Man­agers com­plain that it is im­pos­si­ble to fire any­one for a litany of rea­sons, and that dis­grun­tled em­ploy­ees fre­quently wield trade union agree­ments as a weapon to re­tain jobs for which they are oth­er­wise un­qual­i­fied.

But with a wave of pri­va­ti­za­tion sup­pos­edly set to oc­cur across Ukraine, par­tic­u­larly of large in­dus­trial en­ter­prises, the pri­macy of unions may be­come a big­ger is­sue as work­ers’ col­lec­tives push to al­ter the terms of sales.

Ac­cord­ing to Ok­sana Voy­narovska, a la­bor at­tor­ney at Vasil Kisil & Part­ners, trade unions are typ­i­cally strong­est in the state-owned in­dus­tries, but they tend not to be a mean­ing­ful force in the pri­vate sec­tor.

How­ever, many for­mer state-owned firms that were pri­va­tized re­tain their union agree­ments, Voy­narovska said.

“Tra­di­tion­ally, they were the big man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies in the Soviet Union, and then they were pri­va­tized by for­eign­ers or they got an in­vest­ment pro­gram ac­cord­ing to which (in­vestors) have to re­tain the rights of the em­ploy­ees with­out mak­ing mas­sive re­dun­dan­cies,” Voy­narovska said.

Test case at Odesa Port­side Plant Two sep­a­rate la­bor at­tor­neys said that the pri­va­ti­za­tion of the Odesa Port­side Plant would be closely fol­lowed in terms of how the plant’s union man­aged to ne­go­ti­ate with its even­tual pur­chaser.

The plant, which pro­duces am­mo­nia and other in­dus­trial chem­i­cals, is widely ex­pected to be the first large in­dus­trial en­tity to be pri­va­tized in the next round of sell­offs

of state prop­erty.

Dmitriy Ter­navskiy, a worker at the plant, said that all 4,000 work­ers were mem­bers of its trade union. He said that the union’s lead­er­ship in­tended to set con­di­tions on the en­ter­prise’s sale for any fu­ture buyer.

“They want it to be sold with the con­di­tion that all jobs are re­tained over some pe­riod of time,” Ter­navskiy said.

Pri­va­ti­za­tion reg­u­la­tion La­bor at­tor­neys say that trade unions are typ­i­cally used as in­stru­ments of ma­nip­u­la­tion, ei­ther on a small scale by em­ploy­ees fight­ing dis­missal, or by wealthy busi­ness­man who see them as op­por­tu­ni­ties to sti­fle re­sis­tance.

Ac­cord­ing to Mar­i­ana Marchuk, a la­bor at­tor­ney at Baker Mcken­zie in Kyiv, as few as three work­ers can form a trade union. Once one is formed, a com­pany will need per­mis­sion to dis­miss any worker in the union from the trade union it­self.

“New trade union for­ma­tion is of­ten re­lated to such sit­u­a­tions, when an em­ployee should be or is dis­missed for dis­ci­plinary vi­o­la­tions,” Marchuk said.

The Baker at­tor­ney added that while it is pos­si­ble to re­solve these con­flicts, such sit­u­a­tions were of­ten an ex­am­ple of “pres­sure tac­tics ei­ther to avoid dis­missal for dis­ci­plinary vi­o­la­tions, or to have a for­mal pre­text for chal­leng­ing the ter­mi­na­tion, or to ne­go­ti­ate more fa­vor­able terms.”

How­ever, state-owned com­pa­nies on the path to pri­va­ti­za­tion, like the Odesa plant, tend al­ready to be cov­ered by one large union. "In the terms of pri­va­ti­za­tion there will be a sep­a­rate chap­ter re­gard­ing col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing rights and obli­ga­tions to ful­fill the terms of the col­lec­tive agree­ment,” Marchuk said. Within one year af­ter pri­va­ti­za­tion, new col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing should com­mence, she said.

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