Question: Good afternoon. Madam Minister. Thank you for the opportunity to talk to you. In general, Europeans are aware of the developments in the Crimean Peninsula and tragic military operations in the southeast Ukraine, but probably they are not familiar with the true scope and complexity of the challenges you currently facing as the Head of the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine. Could you please share your comments on the situation in Ukraine and what tasks are most important to you now?
In recent months Ukraine has faced perhaps the most pressing challenges over our entire modern history. It is obvious that the Government as well has to solve new, very important, and difficult tasks. As to the Ministry of Social Policy, the main tasks are social protection of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Crimea and areas of anti-terrorist operation (ATO), and care of those, who take part in anti-terrorist operation.
Social security bodies provide full support for IDPs in terms of renewal of all their social and insurance benefits and pensions at a new place of residence. Employment service works with these citizens, assisting them in finding new jobs. All applications from these people are processed promptly. The procedures such as social benefits and pensions formalities, as well as acquiring of the unemployed person status and receiving appropriate assistance have been simplified for the above mentioned people. Until now, over 180 thousand IDPs applied to our Ministry on various issues of social protection.
Another focus of our work is solving the problems of our citizens that arose after the occupation of the Crimea. Back in March this year, right after pseudo-referendum on the Peninsula and blocking of payment systems by Russia, we started developing mechanisms that allow Crimeans, who retained Ukrainian citizenship, to receive pensions and social benefits on the mainland Ukraine. Thus Crimeans may receive their money from the state in Kherson region.
As for the participants of anti-terrorist operation, the Government understands: there is a new category of people who need special care from the state. They protect the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine and are entitled to gratitude and care.
In order to ensure adequate social protection for these people and their families, the Cabinet of Ministers established the State Service for Veterans and Participants of ATO which is in charge of all their problems – from psychological rehabilitation to housing.
Question: The Ukrainian Parliament has ratified the Association agreement with the EU in September this year simultaneously with the EU. What kind of tasks has the Ministry of Social Policy in the European integration field? What reforms do you plan to carry out in Ukraine?
Since getting the independence, and this means more than 20 years, Ukraine has endeavored to build the state where every citizen has a wide spectrum of rights for social protection. Social protection system we inherited from post-Soviet epoch needed radical reform and had to be brought in line with statutes of international law. At present we have established main institutions of social protection. But we are still looking for its optimal structure.
Today the system of social and pension payments covers 13.5 million pensioners, 2.1 million citizens affected by the Chernobyl Catastrophe who receive various social payments and privileges, about 2 million of veterans and members of their families, 4.3 million Children of War, 2.8 million disabled persons, over 206 thousand low income families, over 1 million families needing subsidies for payment of housing and utility services, 90.8 thousand orphans and children deprived paternal care, etc. In the present conditions, when our government has to allocate financial resources for anti-terrorist operation and for overcoming of consequences of external aggression, destruction of a housing, transport and social infrastructure in the East of our state, it became necessary to provide social guarantees for citizens covered by the existing system of social protection. At the same time, along with provision of social support we have to advance and ensure implementation of new principles in our social policy. The Ministry for Social Policy actively participated in the process of drafting of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU and I am pleased to note that as a result of this the Agreement contains a full scope chapter – Chapter 21 « Cooperation on employment, social policy and equal opportunities » covering the wide scope of issues in social and labor field.
In addition, the chapter « Justice, Freedom and Security » contains provisions related to the protection of migrant workers rights. And we hope that the implementation of these provisions by both Ukraine and the EU member states will contribute in development of a regulated labor migration, promotion of social protection for migrant workers, ensuring of equal treatment for Ukrainian workers. Thus, as the ultimate goal we consider provision of access to citizens of Ukraine to one of four fundamental freedoms of the EU internal market – free movement of persons.
I would like to make a special mention of the issue of EU regulations implementation in the social and labor field as identified in the annexes to the Agreement. The implementation of these provisions in the Ukrainian legislation, in my opinion, shall become an example of good practices of legislation unification and, consequently, implementation of European standards in social and labor field. This will promote further improvement of social welfare for the Ukrainian citizens ensuring them jobs with decent working conditions.
We pin our big hopes on implementation of the Article 299 « Civil society institutions » as the development of this sector shall become a powerful stimulus for the real participation of citizens in the decision-making process related to their everyday life, exercising their social rights for employment, health protection, accommodation, education, non-discrimination, freedom of movement, legal and social protection.
That is why we are open for close cooperation with our partners from EU member states on the way to full scope membership of Ukraine in the EU, in particular in the framework of such EU instruments EU as Twinning and TAIEX.
Question: What primary reforms lay foundation for your long term social policy?
Young people are ready to leave behind the ideology of dependency, i.e. move from implementation of passive social policy providing various benefits and allowances to active, so-called « European » values oriented, policy. In the social sphere, this means that you have opportunities for self-fulfillment in your home country, for raising your social status, equal access to public amenities, high quality life and work, etc.
However, we have to consider that elder groups are oriented mainly on the implementation of the economic component of social policy i.e. receiving assistance from the state. This means that the state should pursue a graded social policy which would take into account needs and interests of all social groups and provide for optimal correlation of different social groups interests. The new principles of regional social policy shall also become a basis for social reform in Ukraine. It is necessary to abandon the idea of a purely centralized system associated with decision-making mainly in the center. Equally important vector of social policy adaptation to new conditions is the promotion of civil society organizations, development of social self-organization institutes, and participation of citizens in public affairs. This is so-called « de-governmentalization » of the social policy which means that the state becomes equal partner with business, community-based, intergovernmental or non-governmental organizations, other civil society institutions, and people.
These key areas of social policy transformation, in our opinion, will ensure adaptation to new economic conditions, processes of globalization and integration of Ukraine into the European Area. Now moving to a sector reforms. The central place here belongs to the pension reform.
Changes occurred over the past decade in the age structure of the population are characterized by a strong tendency towards nation aging. As a result, work-capable to retirement age people ratio remains high. The solution for these problems is economic growth and implementation of an accumulative system of compulsory state pension insurance, i.e. creation of the three-pillar pension system.
The reforms also will concern a working population. Unfortunately, in Ukraine remains a significant portion of jobs with low efficiency and low wages. Therefore, the main focus of reform today is the restructuring of our economy, creation of new jobs, reform in the labor market, promotion of the efficient employment and creation of the efficient system for social protection of workable population through improving labor legislation.
The issue of critical importance is the improvement of social assistance system. Approach changing to the social assistance system envisages reorientation of local bodies system for social protection to delivery of targeted assistance to low-income families and families being in difficult life circumstances. For this purpose new, more efficient methods of targeted assistance delivery will be used, which were successfully implemented in international practice, as well as indirect methods for income assessment and information technology.
Consistent implementation of these reforms will ensure reduction of social inequality; reduction of population below the poverty line; improvement of state regulation in the labor market, and improved targeting for social assistance.
Question: You participate directly in your country’s cooperation with international organizations such as the International Labor Organization in Geneva and you know the urgent needs of the citizens affected by the annexation of the Crimea by Russia and by the military actions in the southeast of Ukraine. What kind of help does your country need at the moment?
The Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine has long and close partnership relations with many international organizations. This is, first of all, the International Labor Organization, whose member Ukraine is since 1954.Over the last 8 years we have been working in close cooperation with the ILO in the framework of Decent Work Country Programme. During this period there were implemented 10 technical assistance projects. Among the recent ones, I would like to mention « Improvement of collective bargaining and labor law compliance in Ukraine », whose implementation has helped the Ministry foe Social Policy and social partners to switch to the tripartite format of collective bargaining at the national and regional level in the process of conclusion of the General Collective Agreement, as well as to make necessary amendments to the Law « On Collective Agreements and Contracts ». The project helped to improve the activities of the State Labor Inspection. Donors for this project were, in particular, Canada and Norway.
By the way, I know that you are Norwegian, and I want to emphasize that Norway is actively involved in international technical assistance to Ukraine. In December 2013 the project on enhancement of the children’s rights protection of in Ukraine was launched within the framework of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine for 2011 – 2014. Norway is the donor of this project. Furthermore, the Government of Norway decided to allocate humanitarian aid in amount of 1 million euro to refugees from the Donbas, as recently has communicated the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway Børge Brende. I’d like to mention that the Norwegian government has decided to extend the aid to Ukraine under the programs aimed at the budget, energy and other sectors. I am grateful for understanding of our complicated situation and providing us with a necessary support.
Also I would like to thank to the governments of the United States, Germany, Austria, Spain, as well as international organizations which closely cooperate with the Ministry of Social Policy – UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Population Fund (UNFPA), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Active support is also provided by the International Organization for Migration and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). I’d like to mention that the Ministry is engaged in strong cooperation with the World Bank and the IMF within the framework of the large-scale projects as well.
Nowadays, when Ukraine is in difficult circumstances and it has to overcome the impacts of external aggression, economic blockade by Russia, the destruction of infrastructure in the East of Ukraine, we as never before feel the extensive support of our Government policy from the international community.
Thank you for your substantial answers. Madam Minister, and I wish you and your country to overcome all the problems in this difficult for Ukraine time as soon as possible.