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Ukraine: Anti-Union Laws Ruled Unconstitutional

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7 August, 2005ICEM News release No. 85/2000

Ukrainian judges have overturned key anti-union clauses in the country's labour legislation.

The Constitutional Court of Ukraine yesterday struck down Sections 11 and 16 of the Act on Trade Unions, Their Rights and The Safeguarding of Their Activities. Both sections, which severely curtail union rights, were found to be unconstitutional.

The decision is a signal victory for Ukrainian unions and for the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), which had lobbied strongly for the repeal of the offending provisions.

Section 16 required unions to obtain state registration, while Section 11 made unions' legal status dependent on membership numbers and a whole range of complicated administrative and geographical criteria.

Together, they added up to a Catch 27 that could have destroyed many Ukrainian unions. Some local union branches had already been thrown out of their offices by employers using the new law.

Passed by the Ukrainian parliament in September 1999, the law was subsequently signed by President Leonid Kuchma.

Leading the fight against it was Mikhail Volynets, President both of the ICEM-affiliated Miners' Independent Trade Union and of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine. He took the case to the constitutional court, where he testified in detail against the legislation. And with the ICEM's help, he lodged a complaint with the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO committee on freedom of association found that Sections 11 and 16 violated basic international trade union rights standards ratified by Ukraine.

ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs recently wrote to Constitutional Court Chairman Viktor E. Skomorokha, drawing his attention to the ILO decision and calling for a "just verdict" by the court.

That verdict came yesterday, and was immediately announced to the ICEM Presidium meeting in Prague. The ruling is "an important victory for trade union rights in Ukraine," ICEM Vice-President Aleksandr Jurkin told the Presidium. He chairs Ukraine's Atom Trade Union.

"We congratulate the Ukrainian Constitutional Court on its independence and clear-sightedness," said ICEM General Secretary Fred Higgs in Prague. "It has thrown out legislation that was in breach of trade union rights, of Ukraine's international commitments and of natural justice."