Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant workers subjected to forced labour by Russian forces, say trade unions

The ILO expresses grave concerns about civilian casualties and the severe impact of the Russian Federation aggression on workers and employers who risk their lives to continue working and operating.

News | 01 June 2023
The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine. © AFP/STRINGER/ANADOLU AGENCY
BUDAPEST (ILO News) – Workers at the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine have been subjected to forced labour and coercion to join unions controlled by occupying Russian forces, say Ukrainian trade unions.

According to the trade unions, workers’ fundamental rights are ‘frequently and repeatedly violated’, many being exposed to life-threatening occupational safety and health risks. The emergency response and occupational safety and health management systems are no longer functioning effectively, they say.

A joint briefing paper by the ILO and the global union federation IndustriALL outlines details from these trade union reports, as well as information from the International Atomic Agency (IAEA), the Nuclear Energy Agency of the OECD, and the State Nuclear Regulatory Inspectorate of Ukraine.

The briefing paper reiterated the ILO’s ‘grave concerns’ about civilian casualties, the severe impact of the Russian Federation’s aggression on workers and employers risking their lives to continue working and operating, and the ‘irreversible damage’ to Ukraine’s infrastructure, economy and labour market. 

Before the start of the war, there were 12,000 workers at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and in Enerhodar city, of which 11,000 were union members at the plant. The membership of the union has since decreased to around 1,200 workers.

Many nuclear workers and their families managed to escape before the occupying forces took control of the nuclear power plant in February 2022. The ILO has received reports that those who remain working at the plant have been forced to sign employment contracts with the Russian state atomic energy corporation, Rosatom, and to join unions controlled by the occupying forces. This constitutes a clear violation of the right to freedom of association, the report says.

The most reported cases of forced labour concern nuclear workers who have tried to leave the city of Enerhodar but were refused the right to leave the occupied territory. Other reports of forced labour concern the right to freely choose employment. After Russian forces occupied the power plant, workers were refused the right to contact their Ukrainian employer, Energoatom.

Those workers that operate the nuclear reactor installations and equipment have been subjected to threats.

‘Some were taken to so-called “basements”, kept there for several days, while their apartments, garages or cottages were searched, and their families were threatened. Some were allegedly subject to torture,” the briefing paper states.

However, less than five per cent of these workers have signed employment contracts with the occupying forces.

The plant has been converted into a military base by the occupying forces. In addition to the unauthorized presence of armed military personnel, Russian forces are neither respecting fire safety regulations nor other safety procedures in the premises. They have deliberately shelled the energy infrastructure of the area and power lines to the station. There are reports of workers being sent to repair damaged energy infrastructure, putting their lives at risk.

Staff continue to ensure the safe and secure operation of the nuclear facilities but stress and the constant risk of shelling, are aggravating the mental strain and anxiety of staff working at the plant, the report says.