8 June, 2022For decades, trade union rights have been violated in Belarus. The recent, countless attacks against independent unions were taken before the Committee on the Application of Standards during the 110th Session of the International Labour Conference in Geneva on 7 June. And today, 8 June, unions around the world joined a global day of action, calling for the immediate release of Belarusian trade union leaders and activists.
The Belarussian government continues to blatantly ignore its obligations under ILO Convention 87. 18 years after the 2004 Commission of Inquiry recommendations, no meaningful progress has been made towards its implementation.
The situation has dramatically deteriorated since 2020 and even more so in the last two months, with targeted, politically motivated suppression of independent trade unions. The government is systematically destroying independent and democratic trade unions, whose leaders are under constant attack.
At the moment, all leaders of independent unions in Belarus have either been arrested and later released, but prohibited to leave the country or disclose any information about their case, or remain in prison.
Hundreds of union members have been subjected to harassment and intimidation and pressured to leave their unions. Activists have been interrogated and union offices have been bugged.
Workers in Belarus still need authorisation to establish a union. CAS has repeatedly demanded that all obstacles for registering unions are removed, both in law and in practice, and that there should be no special treatment of any particular union.
Over the last two years, the government of Belarus has grossly violated freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, and a right to a fair trial by an independent and impartial judiciary – all basic preconditions for freedom of association. CAS has urged the government to amend several laws in conformity with freedom of association principles.
CAS is demanding:
- An end to the repression of independent trade unions,
- The release of detained leaders and activists and withdrawal of all charges
- That all necessary measures are taken to ensure that independent unions, their leaders and activists can carry out trade union activities in a climate free from violence, intimidation or threat of any kind
The apparent lack of action by the government to follow up on the 2004 Commission of Inquiry recommendations and the 2021 CAS conclusions demonstrate a lack of commitment to ensure respect for its obligations under the ILO Constitution, and the lack of respect for the ILO supervisory system. Therefore, CAS is demanding to refer this issue to the session of the ILO Governing Body in November 2022 for consideration of additional measures.
In a joint statement on behalf of IndustriALL, PSI and ITF, IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:
“We urge the Belorussian government to change their course and commit to global democratic standards, and to demonstrate this commitment by releasing those union leaders who have been arrested and dropping all charges.”
"Present, present, present"
Trade unionists around the world demonstrated in solidarity with the imprisoned leaders of independent unions in Belarus today. In Geneva, representatives of the global labour movement gathered outside the UN building at Place des Nations, holding pictures of those who have been arrested. This was a reminder that attacks on unions are not just attacks on institutions, but on people – and that our brothers and sisters in Belarus are in prison for the crime of representing workers.
A symbolic role call was held: the names of the imprisoned trade unionists were read out, while the crowd responded “present, present, present.”
Speakers linked the recent wave of repression in Belarus with the war in Ukraine, pointing out that attacks on independent trade unions intensified when union leaders spoke out against the war. Union leaders have consistently condemned the war, and called for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Belarus.
The demonstration was attended by a delegation of Ukrainian trade unionists, and Mikhailo Volynets, the chair of the Ukrainian miners’ union NPGU, spoke in support of his Belarusian colleagues.