Market vendors unite to protect their rights to work

Market traders/ Entrepreneurs protest for their right to work and free tradeA primary trade union organisation of the Free Trade Union of Entrepreneurs of Ukraine (FTUEU) has been recently established in the city of Shostka, Sumy region (Ukraine). People united in the Free Trade Union to defend their right to decent work.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in Shostka city, as in many other Ukrainian cities, the enterprises began to close, including those that served the defense industry. Only small and medium businesses helped the city to survive after such an economic hit. Then, around four thousand entrepreneurs are the main sources for the formation of the budget of Shostka city. And now the traders of the wholesale - retail market were in need of help due to the municipality evicting them from the territory where they used to sell.

As Alexander Vlasko, the chairman of the newly established trade union of entrepreneurs of Shostka city said, entrepreneurs have been repeatedly forced to relocate. The new location of the local traders is convenient and centrally located for customers. Recently, one of the deputies (who represent the ruling party) decided to renew the park. They did not start the development of the project but evicted traders out of their working places without notices. As the entrepreneurs admit, there are two sides to a story: the concerned people want to create a wholesale market on the outskirts of the city and to "drive" all the traders there. All the buyers including those with kid's carriages will have to walk two kilometers to the market and back just to buy a box of tomatoes or a few kilos of potatoes or onions thus causing an inconvenience to everyone.

Entrepreneurs have requested support from Rostislav Duplin, the chairman of the Association of Free Trade Unions of Shostka city. Meanwhile, the local police on the orders of the mayor demanded that until November 3 the park territory liberated from the traders' tents and containers. Activists of free trade unions started to protect the traders-entrepreneurs and helped them to organise a termless protest action, followed by a meeting with the city mayor. The mayor promised that the law enforcement officers would not come to the market with such demands.

Alexander Vlasko Chairman of Shostka Primary Trade Union of market tradeBut despite the promises, the entrepreneurs organised themselves and united to form an independent trade union organisation. It is well understood that in such situation, saving a drowning man - only in his own hands as this would protect the traders from future incidences and to protect their rights.

"The traders during the protest action decided to hold a meeting to create a trade union organisation. They elected its secretariat and chairman, " said Rostislav Duplin. "So, now the primary union affiliated to the FTUEU appeared in Shostka city, which, in its turn, is affiliated to the international organisation of street and market vendors - StreetNet International."

Duplin continued to comment that Trade unionists have already started an information campaign: distributing leaflets, which inform citizens about the trader's problems. "The entrepreneurs explain who really needs the current territory of the market and why the traders/entrepreneurs were evicted from this place, " he said.

In Shostka, which has eighty thousand citizens, five supermarkets have been opened and small food stores started to be closed. Alexander Vlasko notes that entrepreneurs try to explain to the citizens that the vegetable market offers competitive prices and is a rival to the supermarkets and actually a tool of deterrence of rising prices.

"Entrepreneurs are not the enemy of the city and do not make the park dirty like the local authority says," commented Alexander. "On the contrary, they are interested that everywhere - in the park and in the city is clean and comfortable, which is the same like in your own home or yard, as their children and grandchildren have to rest here as well. And if the big supermarkets "take out" the funds from the city, a small business with its taxes regularly replenishes the city budget".

Entrepreneurs of Shostka city are sure that they will be able to regain their right to work. After all, they got support from both buyers and Free Trade Unions, known in its previous victorious protest actions. The counterparts to Shostka citizens from around the world that are part of StreetNet International are also ready to show their solidarity.

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StreetNet International

StreetNet International is an alliance of street vendors. It was launched in Durban, South Africa, in November 2002.

Membership-based organizations (unions, co-operatives or associations) directly organizing street vendors, market vendors and/or hawkers among their members, are entitled to affiliate to StreetNet International.

The aim of StreetNet is to promote the exchange of information and ideas on critical issues facing street vendors, market vendors and hawkers (i.e. mobile vendors) and on practical organizing and advocacy strategies