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Unions in Belarus report new violations

10 May, 2016Leaders from three of IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliates in Belarus reported widespread violations of trade union rights in the country, during their meeting with IndustriALL assistant general secretary, Monika Kemperle on 29 April in the capital Minsk.

Leaders from the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union (REP), the Free Metalworkers' Union and the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Miners, Chemical workers, Oil-refiners, Energy, Transport, Construction and Other Workers revealed the difficult conditions that activists from independent trade unions are facing in Belarus. The union leaders have also called for solidarity support to the workers persecuted by the management for their trade union activity.

One of the recent cases concerned Natalya Anikeyeva, a painter at the Minsk Tractor Plant and a REP union member. In February 2016, Natalya Anikeyeva established a local REP union at the Minsk Tractor Plant.

Workers relied on union support in achieving a salary increase and better working conditions. The newly formed local union asked the management to start collective bargaining to amend the collective agreement in terms of salary payment and health and safety issues. When the management refused to negotiate, the local union sent a letter to the Ministry of Industry.

Workers’ wages depend on the quantity of painted pieces at the factory.  If painters strictly followed the technical process rules, they would only earn an equivalent of 77 euros per month. So in order to increase production and wages, workers are encouraged by management to violate the process rules, consequently decreasing the quality of the product.

The Ministry of Industry inspected the plant, and now the employer is trying to get rid of the union activist by transferring her to another workplace. Her colleagues are being forced to sign a letter blaming Anikeyeva for a revolt. But Anikeyeva believes that the real goal is to fire her for her union activities. She is afraid that all the workers who supported her will be also fired.

Another case concerns Mikhail Soshko, a union activist who had worked at the Slonim Worsted-Goods Factory for 30 years and was fired three years before his retirement, in violation of the collective agreement. Those who dare to express their support for Soshko have also become subjects to repression.

REP wants a fair attitude towards workers from management; respect for workers' right to freely join the union; and a just solution to the issue of salaries.

Gennady Fedynich, chairman of the REP, said: "We need to put pressure on the management, for instance by contacting Minsk Tractor Plant’s customers abroad. The employer should be charged for violating international labour standards.

Monika Kemperle said, “It can’t be that enterprises ignore workers’ rights and show such little respect for labour law. IndustriALL will use all possible tools to put an end to the workers' rights violations at both enterprises.”

Kemperle visited Belarus on 28-30 April at the invitation of the Belarusian Trade Union of Chemical, Mining and Oil Industries Workers, another IndustriALL affiliate. She took part in the international conference "Interaction of Employers, Authorities and Trade Unions on Prevention of Occupational Diseases, Injuries, Accidents and on Creation of Healthy and Safe Working Conditions", where she made a survey report on world practice of health and safety for women.

Belarus is expected to come under scrutiny by the ILO at the International Labour Conference in Geneva in June.