Discrimination, stress, and modernization of education: Sergiy Savchuk about the Ukrainian labour market
03 August 2021
Manifestations of discrimination may often be encountered even in the contemporary world. It has not been eradicated at the labour market as well.
Women who have long since been fighting for their rights, are frequently forced to get on average 21% less pay than men performing work of equal value. Sometimes, they are not even hired for funny reasons.
However, not only they are subjected to discrimination in terms of job placement. Young professionals and persons with disabilities are also unable to find a job because of backward views and approaches.
In an interview to the ICTV Facts, Sergiy Savchuk, the National Coordinator of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Ukraine, told about discrimination at the labour market and necessary changes to eliminate it.
What is a pay gap between men and women in Ukraine? What standard should we strive for?
- The pay gap between men and women is 21% on average. It exists everywhere. There is no country where it would not be present. If we talk about the EU, it’s about 14%. That is, we have something to strive for. We see that a 7% decrease in the gap is a short-term plan. A final aim, of course, is a zero gap, that being an overarching objective requiring a lot of effort and time.
Prime causes of the pay gap vary. In Ukraine, this is about a pay gap between women and men not for work equally performed but for work of equal value. It’s a very important feature, because it’s difficult to compare work when we have solely male and solely female sectors.
Ensuring equal remuneration for work of equal value is one of the fundamental principles in the world of work. In support of the Convention No. 100, also ratified by Ukraine, the ILO, in cooperation with the UN Women and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), have launched the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) initiative, meaning the international coalition for equal labour remuneration.
It's an international club where governments, trade unions, employers, companies, and civil society organizations declaring and making their contribution to narrowing of the pay gap are invited.
Ukraine became the second country after Canada to have joined the EPIC not only with its government but also with its employer trade unions. It’s important because to reduce a pay gap one needs to revise the national legislation and create an environment that would promote narrowing of the gap at the legislative level.
However, tremendous work must be done by employers and trade unions because it’s about specific jobs, a collective bargaining tool where they would discuss additional measures to reduce such gaps, and implement job assessment in terms of equal remuneration. That is, one should work both at the national level and expand the practice to cover the enterprise level.
Is there any sense to make all sectors tend to be equally male and female ones?
- One of the measures likely to help narrow the pay gap between women and men is overcoming horizontal gender occupational segregation. Only four or five years ago, the Ministry of Health order prohibiting employment of women in more than 400 occupations was reversed.
The doors to various occupations had been closed to women for their sex only. It is believed to be a manifestation of discrimination. Nobody may ban a woman from working if she is qualified and willing to work in a certain job.
I think that reversal of the MOH order was a tectonic shift. The Ministry of Defence has also revised its provisions concerning women’s participation in the Armed Forces. And now we see a great number of women in the Ministry of Defence; in law enforcement bodies, the number of women is also growing because barriers have been removed.
As regards civilian professions, it seems to me that the MOH order reversal alone is too little although it was a very important step.
Educational institutions need to adapt to the changes and actively encourage the sex having lower representation in a profession. The education sector should be ready to admit, for example, girls willing to work in male professions. Not just to write down that they are encouraged but to provide appropriate conditions. Accordingly, to create a non-discriminatory environment. This should also be introduced, though being a long way.
The issue of ageism is rather acute in Ukraine. That is, the “ceiling” for workers is somewhere about 35 years. After attainment of that age, employers are usually reluctant to employ people. Can this be combatted somehow?
- The right to non-discrimination is a fundamental human right in the world of work. Everything not pertaining to my competences, talents or experience should not be considered when examining my application for a certain job.
An employer needs not a man or woman of some age. An employer needs an individual able to do some or other job in the best way.
The right to non-discrimination is present in the ILO Convention No. 111 ratified by Ukraine. It is essential that Ukraine observe it not only at the level of its legislation or the State Employment Service but also at the level of every single employer submitting a job advertisement.
Earlier, there was a great deal of vacancies stating that they needed, for example, a man aged between 25 and 35, non-married, etc. Five or six discrimination grounds could be found in one advertisement. Why should that be a man, non-married, and of that age?
There is also indirect discrimination. For example, a worker at least 180 cm tall is required. They don’t even mention sex or age. Clearly, a great part of potential applicants for that vacancy is cut off because women are usually a little shorter than men.
We held a major international conference to consider discrimination in job advertisements. In our country (in Ukraine, - Ed.), the experts engaged in this field are rather well aware of what discrimination is.
However, when there is no effective supervision, when the labour inspectorate does not have enough powers to consider such cases and respond to them, they cannot be avoided.
Ageism is just one of the aspects in discrimination in the world of work. It can also be discrimination against women (sex-based discrimination – Ed.) or against women who have just returned after a maternity leave. It can be a woman of the age in which an employer can reject her application, thinking that she is likely to become pregnant. It can be a person representing a certain vulnerable group, a HIV-positive person.
In such a case, it translates into multiple discrimination – when a person is not hired because of a number of parameters which by no means concern the person’s qualification for doing some or other job.
It’s very harmful not only to the employer who narrows down the pool of applicants to a minimum but also to the labour market generally.
Such phenomena need to be combatted. There has been a case recently where a woman was denied (employment – Ed.) because she is Ukrainian-speaking. I don’t know how that story ended but the HR specialist who refused to hire her on the ground of language has been dismissed. However, have you heard that such cases were submitted to court?
We are aware of discrimination existing but we see only few real cases which could be addressed, summarized, and analyzed.
What is the situation concerning recent graduates? They are also rejected during job search quite often.
- Actually it’s a rather complex problem where one must not accuse only one party. First of all, the education sector develops in parallel with the labour market. Much has often been said about specialists being produced in our country who are not in demand already at the stage when a prospective student enters a higher educational institution.
For example, it has been said that the Ukrainian labour market is not able to absorb such a quantity of specialists in that field. However, the education sector continues to train them.
Many graduates want to get a better job, so to speak, a white-collar rather than blue-collar job. Few young people see themselves in vocational education. Besides, the vocational education is substantially detached from the labour market needs.
Employers even resort to such measures as supporting vocational and higher education institutions to train specialists for themselves. The Federation of Employers has been working quite actively in this field. The Confederation of Employers has also been raising the issue of qualification for the labour market needs all the time.
Another large cluster of problems. To solve it, one needs to work with young people, strengthen vocational guidance, and tell about the professions which will be in demand. We know that entire occupational clusters are likely to disappear in the next 10 or 15 years due to technological progress.
Young people should be focused on a specialty that will bring them professional satisfaction and certain income so that they, having got a degree, don’t come to the employment service next day to register as unemployed.
Now back to the discrimination theme. Quite often, one doesn’t want to hire a young individual because the person has no experience. Theoretical knowledge must be reinforced by practical knowledge so that a new graduate could work from the very first day.
Dual education – where theory is combined with practice, and a student spends increasingly more time at an enterprise with every passing year – is the approach that enables saving huge funds and giving important knowledge.
Our legislation provides for incentivization of employers to hire persons with disabilities but such cases are very rare in our country. What incentives are required to engage such persons in work?
- The “we don’t need persons with disabilities” stance is an absolute manifestation of discrimination. This issue should be addressed in a comprehensive way.
The education system must be constructed in a way to be inclusive. Unlocking the full potential of each man and woman also applies to persons with disabilities.
In Ukraine, that work was for some time carried out by means of establishing professional rehabilitation centres for persons with disabilities which operated as educational institutions with modular programmes.
It’s perhaps an outdated approach from the present day viewpoint, which should be abandoned. How can we talk about inclusion when we single them out and work with them separately already during their vocational training period? Barrierlessness should be created throughout the education system so that persons with disabilities have the right to acquire a profession on equal terms with all other people.
That is, a certain path needs to be travelled yet to ensure that not only the Ukraine University which has done quite a lot in the inclusiveness domain but also all other educational institutions are accessible to persons with disabilities.
Employment of persons with disabilities is an important topic as well. There are examples for us to follow among international companies. For instance, when you come to supermarkets you can see people having hearing or speech impairments, they may not hear you but they do their job the same as anyone else. And they do it to a high standard.
It's a striking example showing that it’s possible and normal, that it’s the way it should be. These people must not be isolated, they must be included in the life of society.
Labour is the instrument of self-fulfilment that makes them productive and happy members of society because they are not isolated.
There are many small enterprises which perhaps would like to employ persons with disabilities. However, they are quite cautious about that, not knowing how to approach that.
The role of the state is very significant in this process. It should help employers adapt workplaces. Not only ramps but ergonomic furniture are meant. Creation of a climate is the most important point.
It’s what can promote unlocking the potential of an individual or alienate them – that is, the employer hires the person but other workers don’t accept him or her.
In that direction, the State Employment Service rearranges its activity following European best examples, and we help it do that within the framework of our project financed by the Danish government. With our assistance, the service has reformatted its activity to divide its staff into career counsellors.
One career counsellor helps a jobseeker. That is, a person comes to the employment service, a file is made up for them, and a service employee manages the case up to job placement. There are counsellors for employers who help the latter find the best candidate.
The third category of career counsellors are specialized counsellors. A specialized counsellor helps jobseekers facing certain barriers or difficulties in job placement. This is the category that persons with disabilities fall into.
It’s a very broad and difficult area of work that we support in the State Employment Service. I would like to say that certain progress has been achieved in that. Changes have occurred in structural terms, we have elaborated and been implementing the career counsellors function.
We have delivered training to the former two counsellor categories, and are going to train specialized career counsellors in autumn to improve quality of services they provide, in particular to persons with disabilities.
How considerable is the problem of so-called staff burn-out? Is this an issue solely within the pandemic context?
- I don’t think it can be viewed solely within the pandemic context. It think the pandemic has just aggravated the issue. The professional stress problem has always been rather important.
When we were presenting a manual on prevention of work-related stress, we expected 25 or 30 participants but more than 100 participants registered, representing institutions and organizations from different regions of Ukraine and economic sectors.
To me, such a considerable interest is the best evidence of the problem being serious enough.
I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that many employers also take care of these matters. They underlined two main theses: care for a worker and care for an enterprise. Stress adversely affects labour productivity – therefore, the enterprise’s economic results.
We talked about discrimination that also has an impact on stress. An unhealthy working environment results in stress. Stress in turn is connected with labour productivity. All these are interrelated concepts, and they should be addressed in a holistic way.