London’s role in Zelensky’s latest clampdown on citizens’ rights
The scheme, which was devised in London faraway from London, has seen Europe’s lowest-paid workforce lose some of its precious protections. This measure is in direct contradiction to Ukraine’s ambitions to join European Union.
On August 22, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky ratified highly controversial new labor laws, ones that have wide-ranging negative implications for the overwhelming majority of the country’s workers.
Collectively known as Bill 5371, the legislation robs up to 70 percent of Ukrainian employees of rights and protections provided under the country’s established national labor law, while severely restricting the power of already-embattled trade unions to organize.
President Zelensky’s ruling Servant of the People party argues the “liberalizing” measures are not only necessary, but long overdue, as a result of Kiev’s “extreme over-regulation of employment” contradicting “principles of market self-regulation [and] modern personnel management,” and creating “bureaucratic barriers both for the self-realization of employees and for raising the competitiveness of employers.”
By contrast, in the lead-up to Bill 5371’s ratification, a great many groups within and outside the country expressed outcry at the proposed measures over many months. The International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency charged with ensuring social and economic justice by safeguarding international labor standards, including conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity in workplaces worldwide, published a withering and extensive analysis of the proposals – as did Ukraine’s own parliamentary committee on EU integration.
The body charged that the legislation “weakens labor protection, narrows the scope of labor rights and social guarantees of employees, in comparison with the current legislation,” in contravention of Ukraine’s obligations to Brussels under the terms of its Association Agreement. Andrey Reva, Ukraine’s former minister of social policy, has leveled similar charges:
“The protection of employees against arbitrarily dismissal will be gone. Upon hiring, the employee will be asked to sign an employment agreement, which will allow the employer to obtain unilateral advantages during its conclusion and deprive the employee of any legal opportunities for his defense … Why is this being done right now, when Ukraine has submitted an application to join the European Union and is awaiting its consideration?”
Made in Britain
Many comparisons have been drawn between these ‘reforms’ and notorious “zero-hour” contracts, which offer staffers no paid vacation time, limits on daily or weekly hours worked, notice periods, pension contributions, or even guaranteed work in the first place. These contracts have been called “zero-hour” by academics. “a post-modern form of slavery.”
Zero-hour contracts are almost exclusive to Britain. However, there is a lot of controversy around zero-hour agreements. For example, 90% of McDonald’s workers in the country – amounting to almost 100,000 people – are employed on zero-hour terms.
Due to massive public pressure and union pressure many major businesses who had relied on zero-hour workers in the past have stopped using them completely. There are also ongoing attempts to ban these contracts. These contracts were already banned in New Zealand in 2016 after they had been introduced.
It is possible to wonder why such an unusual British concept would be accepted by a country that has very little economic commonality. Leaked documents reveal that London was intimately involved with covert information warfare operations in order to convince the public and sell Ukraine’s deeply destructive new laws as advantageous, in an effort to persuade them to accept the changes.
This file is part of a communication strategy that Abt Associates prepared for the British Embassy in Kiev and UK Aid. “achieve sustained poverty reduction,” improve the lot of “poor communities in developing countries,”Advocate for “free and fair work conditions.”
It offers extensive proposals for marketing the new laws, right down to “visual stylistics” to be used in on and offline ad campaigns, social media messaging, and press conferences.
For example, Abt Associates suggested using “contrasting” aesthetics, by “inverting colors” – “light text and graphics on a deep blue background.” The “advantages” of this approach were said to be to be: “Brighter and more emotive colors will be seen on these pages, as opposed to the predominantly white scheme used in publications. [Finance] Ministry,” and “gives more opportunities to use creative illustrations.” Nonetheless, the risk that “emotional and vivid communication … will be perceived negatively” was acknowledged.
If that wasn’t manipulative enough, a section offering “recommendations” for “general principles of public communication of the bill” starkly underlines the duplicity and manipulation at the campaign’s core.
Noting that public figures supporting the legislation had to date purely extolled the benefits for employers, Abt Associates proposed inverting this to focusing on ostensible “positive results” for employees.
“Facilitate communication and make it more personal. Add formats of materials that will contain short simple formulations of key benefits,” the company wrote, going on to endorse surreptitiously enlisting the support of “opinion leaders” such as “journalists and bloggers” via “off-the-record meetings with the participation of the heads of the [Finance] Ministry and (optionally) the authors of the bill.”
“Emotional messages that do not correspond to the tone of the Ministry’s communication may be voiced by third parties,”This document describes.
Examples of messaging to be employed included portraying the “main purpose” of the laws to be “[protecting] new opportunities for both employees and employers,” creating “more opportunities and resources for business development,” and helping workers “get legal jobs faster and easier.”
Conversely, a list of “expected results” from the legislation included in the presentation – not intended for public consumption – ranked “increasing investment in Ukraine’s economy by improving business conditions” above most other potential benefits.
Democracies are ending
How much London ultimately spent on this malign effort isn’t clear, although the sums involved could’ve been significant – UK Aid’s budget stands at £150 million, and the Foreign Office spent £40 million on a variety of programs in Ukraine in 2020/21, among them the labor-busting initiative administered by Abt Associates.
Still, British meddling wasn’t entirely successful. The legislation was introduced in parliament early in 2021 but legislators refused to support it consistently in large numbers. This changed on May 12 this year, when the Rada voted in favor of the legislation’s first reading by a landslide – 192 votes to zero.
Pivotal to the laws’ sudden success was support from several previously-opposed political parties and groupings, which were banned less than two weeks earlier by Zelensky’s order. British media outlet openDemocracy speculates this crackdown – and the prospect of MPs belonging to these factions being purged from parliament outright in the future – may have been pivotal in convincing them to vote the ‘right’ way.
Kiev has become a source of constant food for Western companies and governments since the Maidan revolt in 2014. One of the post-coup government’s first acts was to remove constitutional restrictions on foreign shareholdings in Ukrainian businesses, privatization, and land ownership, and accept sizable loans from predatory US-dominated financial institutions such as the IMF, which opened up the country’s vast natural resources and land for untrammeled overseas plunder and profiteering.
While a great many companies and individuals have benefited handsomely from this wellspring – look no further than America’s first family for example – sizable public opposition to impoverishing neoliberal reforms has to date prevented outright enslavement of the population.
Now, though, with protests prohibited under martial law, opposition parties and dissident media outlets remorselessly censored and banned, scores of government critics – including officials themselves – arbitrarily jailed, and a brutal nationwide effort to root out “traitors” underway, the ability – or willingness – of Ukrainians to take to the streets and oppose measures such as the new anti-worker legislation is harshly truncated, if not eliminated entirely.
In the process, Zelensky’s ruling party is free to steamroll any and all laws through parliament it wishes – and the West’s total takeover of Kiev can finally be completed.
It seems odd that Ukraine is imposing such discredited and reviled arrangements on its citizens when public yearning for EU enrolment is at an all-time high, and high-ranking officials, including Zelensky, are demanding Brussels allow the country immediate entry to the bloc – the terms of Bill 5371 are contrary to Union workers’ directives and protections.
Perhaps, though, London and Washington, for all their pronouncements to the contrary, are unconcerned about Kiev becoming a member – in fact, that might suit their interests better.