19 April, 2018Fourteen years after the adoption of the recommendations of the ILO Commission of Inquiry in Belarus, trade unions still suffer interference in their internal affairs.
IndustriALL Global Union and the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC) organized a joint mission to Belarus to express solidarity with affiliates and meet with Government representatives. The mission met with representatives of the ministries of Labour and Foreign Affairs on 18 April, and raised concerns about attacks on independent trade unions and pressure on trade union activists in Belarus.
In August 2017, trade union leaders were detained and the offices of the Belarusian Independent trade union of Miners, Chemical workers, Oil-refiners, Energy, Transport, Construction and other workers (BITU) and Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union (REP) were searched. Both organizations are members of IndustriALL Global Union, the International Trade Union Confederation and its Pan-European Regional Council (PERC) through the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions.
Ihar Komlik, chairman of the REP Minsk City organization and REP’s chief accountant, was released on 1 October after spending two months in prison. Authorities continue a criminal investigation against REP leaders Komlik and Gennady Fedynitch for alleged large-scale tax evasion for donor aid received as part of trade union cooperation. Both leaders risk up to seven-years’ imprisonment with confiscation of their private property.
There are continued threats against REP members. At least 550 members have been summoned for interrogation by the Investigative Committee of Belarus. Notably, they were mostly questioned about their trade union activities rather than about the financial matters of the union. Computers and other equipment and documents confiscated from trade union offices in August have not been returned.
REP union activists returning from abroad are stopped and searched by the Belarusian border officers for supposedly smuggling of illegal goods.
The Belarusian authorities are undermining the work of independent trade unions as a reaction to successful resistance to a new decree punishing unemployed people and forcing them to pay higher rates for state-subsidized services. The first version of this decree was abolished following mass protests, with strong involvement from the independent trade unions.
Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary comments:
“We expressed our concerns about the current situation with trade union and workers’ rights in Belarus and offered our partnership and assistance in order to correct this situation.
“Will this step really become the beginning of a long journey to improvement, is a question we address to Belarusian Government.
“However, in the absence of a meaningful response, Belarus will not become a decent member of the international community. Time is running out and the next session of the International Labour Conference, where the Belarusian case might be considered, is coming up in June.”
In conjunction with the mission, trade unions in Belgium, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Switzerland protested outside Belarusian embassies. A union delegation met the Ambassador in Geneva, who expressed a desire to move towards a tripartite system with social dialogue.
The union delegation asserted that a precondition for dialogue is that union activists are free from fear of prosecution for union activities. In Brussels, the deputy mission head claimed that Belarus was in the process of improving its industrial relations.
The union protests demanded:
- End persecution of independent trade unions in Belarus;
- Fulfil international obligations undertaken by Belarus in particular to respect ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize in line with the Commission of Inquire recommendations;
- Stop mass interrogations of rank-and-file members of REP and other independent unionists, and discontinue criminal investigation against union leaders Fedynich and Komlik.
Letters with similar demands were also delivered in many other countries.