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Belarus: fight continues for democracy and labour rights

9 August, 20219 August marks the one-year anniversary of the rigged presidential elections in Belarus which have led to intensified repression and intimidation of civil society, as well as a complete disrespect of fundamental human and workers' rights.

Since last year’s elections, the Belarusian regime has cracked down on core civil liberties: freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association. Today’s anniversary shows the need for stronger intervention and solidarity by the international community.

Independent unions in Belarus have always been at the forefront of the struggle for fundamental rights and democracy and have been hit hard by the repressive regime. Since August 2020, independent union leaders, activists and members have been intimidated, detained, sentenced to lengthy administrative arrests and fined. Union offices have been raided by police, homes of union leaders and activists have been searched, and some have had to flee the country.

Under the threat of liquidation, authorities are forcing private companies to establish pro-governmental unions, in violation of the ILO Convention 87.

Workers have been laid off for joining an independent union of their choice, for attempting to strike, or for participating in peaceful protests. Some workers have received heavy prison sentences for exercising their fundamental rights.

For their fearless struggle in such harsh, undemocratic conditions, three IndustriALL affiliates, Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU), Free Metal Workers’ Union (SPM) and Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union (REP),  were awarded the Arthur Svensson international prize for trade union rights, as part of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP).

As part of its  support and solidarity with its Belarussian affiliates, IndustriALL has taken initiatives vis-à-vis  Belarussian authorities, demanding the release of unlawfully detained unionists and calling for an end to the intimidation, pressure, violation and imprisonment of independent union leaders and striking workers. IndustriALL has interacted  with employers demanding an end to the intimidation and unfair dismissals of workers and to re-instate workers.

Together with other global unions, IndustriALL has compiled a list of companies doing business in Belarus and urged them to conduct due diligence on violations of human and labour rights.

IndustriALL has called on the ILO,  the European Union and intergovernmental agencies for their urgent intervention to protect freedom of association and stop repression against independent trade union leaders and activists in Belarus. The European Union has imposed sectoral sanctions on Belarus, and the USA is about to unveil new sanctions against Belarus .

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says:

“We reiterate our commitment to fight for workers’ rights and democratic values and our support for Belarus’ independent unions and civil society. The regime  in the country must respect fundamental rights and freedoms and comply with international obligations. We will continue to struggle until the justice has arrived.”