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Authorities disrupt union women's conference in Belarus

31 August, 2016Authorities tried to disrupt a trade union conference in Salihorsk, Belarus dedicated to the 10-year anniversary of women's union network of the Belarusian Independent trade union of miners (BITU) at JSC Belaruskali.

On 27 August activists of BITU, an IndustriALL Global Union Belarusian affiliate, organized a union conference to assess the results of the network's activities and discuss plans for future.
Forty minutes after the start of the conference, the fire brigade, police and ambulance arrived at the building and requested everyone to leave. Instead of discussing their work and plans for the future, women activists had to wait outside the building. Half an hour later the participants were told that the conference could not continue. The reason given was an alleged fire inside the men's rest room. The conference participants however noticed no evidence of fire or smoke, and not even the smell of it while they were in the hall. Luckily the activists prepared an additional option and continued their conference in the private house of one of the activists.
Even at the stage of organizing the event BITU faced a number of administrative hurdles. The union had to obtain numerous permissions from the authorities, in order to hold the conference. Then the union had to provide a very detailed programme for few international guests who attended the conference.
According to the participants the authorities try to undermine their work all the time. Earlier this year eight women activists who were also the organizers of the Salihorsk women's conference faced accusations of public disorder for posting online a 14-second video protest message against raising the retirement age in Belarus. They all received a warning as administrative penalty.
Time and again the Belarusian authorities interfere with the internal affairs of independent trade unions. All means are used, including administrative pressure, sabotage of genuine union work, harassment of trade union activists: everything is done to silence workers.
The Belarusian case on violations of freedom of association has been under constant consideration of the International Labour Organization since 2000 when trade unions filed their complaint against the government of Belarus. Since then not many things changed. In 2016 the case of Belarus was again on the agenda of the International Labour Conference. This time the complaint was about violation of the ILO Convention on forced labour.