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ILO concerned about violation of Belarusian workers' and trade union rights

17 June, 2014For the seventh time in the last ten years Belarus has been blacklisted by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The decision by the ILO to highlight Belarus as a country regularly violating workers' and trade union rights was made on 3 June during the annual International Labour Conference, which took place in Geneva (Switzerland).

The session of the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) reviewed ongoing violations of workers' and trade union rights in Belarus. Alexander Yaroshuk, Chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) which consists largely of IndustriALL Global Union affiliates, said the Belarusian government repeatedly challenges ILO principles and values by ignoring its recommendations and prosecuting members of independent trade unions. He called on the ILO to be clear in urging the Belarusian government to return the rights stolen from workers and put an end to repression, discrimination and the legalized practice of forced labour.

Yaroshuk told the CAS: 

Over the last 10 years Belarus has become one of the worst countries in the world for workers and independent trade unions. Prosecutions, repressions and punishments, as well as dismissals of workers for being members of independent unions, are wide-scale.

The 1999 President's Decree No. 2 made it impossible to build independent unions. However, any attempts by workers to create a union are being suppressed. Leaders and activists of newly created unions get dismissed immediately, and members are being forced to return to official unions controlled by the state.

In 2012, Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko issued Decree No.9 stating that during the modernization and reconstruction of woodworking enterprises, employees can only terminate their labour contracts with the consent of the employer. In fact, this decree brought serfdom to Belarus.

The BKDP leader commented on the practice of forced labour in Belarus:

Now almost all workers are on short-term labour contracts, a form of forced labour in the totalitarian regime. A medieval practice of serfdom, or modern slavery, is now back in Belarus after the President's decree effectively banned workers from leaving jobs in the woodworking industries. According to the latest statements by the President, this practice will soon be extended to the agricultural sector.

Despite government proclamations and the monitoring of workers' rights in Belarus by the ILO since 2003, there have been no positive changes, as reported by an ILO mission to the country in January 2014. 

On commenting on the ILO's decision to put Belarus on the blacklist once again, Gennady Fedynich, Chairman of IndustriALL affiliate the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union, said:

Short-term labour contracts are widespread in Belarus, and persecution of members of independent trade unions continue. We cannot register new local unions because the authorities refuse to do so under various pretexts. Moreover, there is a pressure on businessmen not to provide an address for a union, and without an address it is not possible to create a local union."

The union leader is skeptical about the ILO capability to influence the government of Belarus:

Over the last ten years the rights of workers and unions in Belarus have become even worse. The Belarusian government ignores both the ILO Recommendations and the ILO Conventions it has ratified. The rules of the game must be changed in relation to such governments."