Briefing Note: Impact of the COVID-19pandemic on healthcare workers in Ukraine
Healthcare workers are at the forefront of Ukraine’s response to COVID-19, risking their lives and their physical and mental health. The conditions of work of healthcare workers not only affect their own rights, but also impact the rights of health service users, including their access to and quality of health services.
This briefing note examines the impact of the pandemic and the Government’s response to it on the rights of healthcare workers in Ukraine, of which 83 per cent are women. It looks, in particular at the right to just and favourable conditions of work, to social security and to effective participation, and how their situation affects essential health services. The briefing note contains recommendations to the Government and local authorities to this end.
Healthcare workers in Ukraine are underpaid, receiving salaries, which are below the national average. In many cases, healthcare workers, especially at middle and junior levels, receive a minimum wage that does not provide for a decent living for them and their families. Temporary bonuses introduced by the Government have partly remedied the situation for some healthcare workers involved in the COVID-19 response, but also raised concerns about lack of pay security, transparency, accountability, equal pay for work of equal value and a further contribution to the gender pay gap.
Healthcare workers lack healthy and safe working conditions, in particular due to lack of sufficient personal protective equipment, effective infection prevention and control mechanism at the workplace and mental health and psychosocial support services. Health care workers also suffer from increased workloads and insufficient time for rest. At the same time, those with other caring responsibilities, mainly women due to prevalent gender roles in Ukraine, face the increased burden of unpaid care work, especially during periods when the Government suspended care and education services in response to COVID-19. Health care workers also lack adequate social protection. Out of the more than 60,000 cases of health care workers infected by COVID-19 by February 2021, only a small percentage have been recognized by the authorities as work-related, impeding the workers’ right to compensation.
A lack of effective dialogue between the authorities and health care workers and exclusion of healthcare workers from government policy-making prevents the authorities from developing and implementing effective policy measures aimed at protection of healthcare workers during the pandemic and beyond. Healthcare trade unions stated they were not effectively consulted about the Government’s COVID-19 response in healthcare at the national and local levels, nor about the ongoing healthcare reform process. Furthermore, HRMMU is alarmed about cases of reprisals against healthcare workers who publicly exposed the poor preparedness and response of the healthcare sector for the COVID-19 crisis.
Dangerous working conditions and inadequate wages and social security, including for workrelated illness, disability or death, have led to healthcare workers leaving their jobs. Given that Ukraine faced a shortage of healthcare workers before the pandemic, their departure is likely to further negatively impact the population’s right to health. This in turn will likely impact the chance of Ukraine being able to meet Sustainable Development Goal 3 on ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being at all ages. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in particular Articles 7 and 9, guarantees the right to work and to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work, including remuneration which provides all workers, as a minimum, with fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, a decent living for themselves and their families, safety and healthy working conditions, and rest and reasonable limitation of working hours, and the right to social security, in particular social insurance. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also guarantees the right to participate in public affairs and the freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association.
In line with its international human rights obligations and national commitments, including the Sustainable Development Goals, Ukraine should significantly increase its investments in the health sector to improve working conditions for healthcare workers, including by providing them with decent pay and improved occupational safety and health and social security, and by ensuring an effective mechanism of consultations with healthcare workers at various levels, including through trade unions.