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The Global Rights Index highlights remaining challenges to workers’ rights in Central and Eastern Europe

On July 12, 2024, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) published its 11th Global Rights Index. The report shows a steady decline in access to workers’ rights around the world. Comparing the datasets from the past eleven years shows that Europe is part of the global trend.

The Global Rights Index ranks countries in the world on a scale of 1 (best) to 5+ (worst). Countries are ranked based on analysis using indicators derived from ILO conventions, and it looks at violations of rights, both in law and in practice.

Central and Eastern Europe show a mixed picture. According to the report, more than half of the countries in the region violate the right to strike and the right to collective bargaining. The average score for European countries fell from 2.56 in 2023 to 2.73 in 2024. Over the past ten years, the average score in Europe fell from 1.84 to 2.73, indicating the strongest decline in rights to work in any region of the world.

At the same time, an improved rating was recorded in one Central and Eastern European country: Romania. Meanwhile, Bulgaria has introduced laws to better protect workers’ rights. Although a sharp decline is recorded in Europe, the region still scores better than other regions in the world.

Major changes in workers’ rights in Central and Eastern Europe

The score for Romania improved from a score of 4, indicating ‘systematic violations of rights’, to rating 3, indicating ‘regular violations of rights’.

Between 2022 and 2023, North Macedonia moved in the opposite direction, dropping from rating 3 to 4. This year, North Macedonia has made no progress and remains at rating 4. In the report, ITUC expresses concerns about the North Macedonian Supreme Court decision to legitimize the forceful transfer of union property to the state.

For Albania, Hungary, Moldova and Montenegro, the report underlines that an overly broad definition of essential services is used to limit or ban strikes. Montenegro and Moldova maintain their rating at 2, indicating “repeated rights violations.” Albania was rated 3, the same rating as in 2023, while Hungary remains at rating 4. Serbia received the same rating (4).

Ukraine was not rated in 2023 due to the Russian Federation’s aggression against the country. This year Ukraine is on the list again. It has the lowest score in Central and Eastern Europe, with a score of 5, indicating “no guarantee of rights”. The report draws attention to Ukraine’s emergency laws and their impact on workers’ basic labor rights and bargaining power.

On the positive side, the report shows progress in Bulgaria. Thanks to the efforts of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Bulgaria (CITUB), criminal charges can now be brought against any employer who violates trade union rights. This is an important step towards better protection for employees and union members. Although Bulgaria remains at rating 3 in the report, the positive development is underlined.

In Georgia, the rating has not changed since last year. The index shows that violations occur regularly (score 3).

ILO support for workers’ rights in Europe

In Central and Eastern Europe, the ILO continues to support trade unions’ efforts to protect workers from rights violations. Unions in the region have established better legal services for their members, and workers continue to use the mobile application that unions developed for workers reporting rights violations and unsafe working conditions and which was originally developed for North Macedonia.

The ILO also supports trade unions’ efforts to influence changes in labor law and initiate robust legal frameworks for workers’ rights that are consistent with International Labor Standards.

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