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ILC focuses on Belarus’ systematic violation of trade union rights

8 June, 2021On 7 June, during the 109th Session of the International Labour Conference, Belarus was reviewed by the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards for its failure to comply with ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association.

The Committee noted that there has been no meaningful progress towards full implementation of the 2004 Commission of Inquiry recommendations. The situation has dramatically deteriorated for workers and civil society after the rigged presidential election in August 2020, with ongoing repression and attacks on civil liberties and trade union rights.

Since August 2020, hundreds of union members and leaders have been intimidated, repeatedly subjected to administrative arrests and fines. Workers have been dismissed for using the right to strike and to peacefully protest; some have received heavy prison sentences for exercising their rights.

The Committee is urging the government to take measures to release all unionists who remain in detention and drop all charges related to participation in peaceful protests and industrial actions, referring to the 2004 recommendation which considers that adequate protection or even immunity against administrative detention should be guaranteed to trade union officials in the performance of their duties or when exercising their civil liberties, including the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.

Over the years, up to 90 percent of Belarusian workers were shifted to one-year employment contracts, widely used to put pressure on workers who participated in peaceful actions and as a result many workers were laid off after August 2020. Together with a systematic denial to register independent unions, the use of short-term contracts seeks to eliminate the presence of independent union leaders and activists.

Since 2000, at least 100 independent unions have been denied registration; only one independent union has been registered.
On 28 May, Belarus adopted regressive amendments to the labour code, further restricting workers’ rights and freedoms, including a ban on strikes.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan spoke on a few of the many trade union rights violations at three IndustriALL affiliates: the denials of the BITU local unions registration and prison sentences for three BITU members for a strike in August 2020; the layoff of over 100 SPM union members for joining a union of their choice; and the police raids of the REP office.

“In light of these continued and systematic violations denying workers’ rights and freedom, stronger measures need to be applied in order to secure compliance of the Belarusian Government with the ILO Convention 87.”

109th Session of the International Labour Conference is taking place online. The Committee will decide on further measures on Belarus at the end of the session on 19 June.