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Increasing harassment against union leaders and members in Belarus

20 January, 2022The Free Metalworkers' Union (SPM), affiliated to IndustriALL, reports increasing repression against SPM leaders and members during the last months of 2021. Union leaders and members have been fired and detained, some have been forced to flee the country to avoid prosecution.

Nearly all SPM local chairs were fired from major companies, including Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ), BELAZ, Minsk Tractor Works (MTW), BKM Holding, Minsk Motor Plant (MMP), Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant, and Minsk Electrotechnical Plant.

On 17 November, the local SPM chair at MAZ, Artyom Zhernak was detained by the state security committee and, his apartment was searched twice. Zhernak still remains in custody.

A search was also conducted at home of Alla Tsvirko, an SPM activist at MAZ. Under the threat of criminal prosecution, she was forced to flee Belarus, as was the SPM press secretary at MAZ, Sergey Gultsov.

Repression has intensified against SPM union members at MMP. On 21 October, Nikolai Shibeko was detained, his home searched and equipment seized. On 22 October, state security officers took SPM members Pavel Gaiduk and Daniil Vosinsky from work. They were sentenced to ten and 15 days of arrest respectively and fired from MMP after their release.

On the same day, union member Alexander Mogilevich was taken to the state security committee for interrogation. On 3 November, Viktor Verovsky, a member of SPM whose contract with MMP had been not extended during the summer, was detained and sentenced to 45 days of arrest. State security officers searched the home of Andrei Komlik-Yamatin, a former MMP worker and SPM member, and he was forced to flee the country.

The home of SPM activist at BELAZ, Alexander Smolsky, was searched three times and he had to leave Belarus under the threat of criminal prosecution. At the end of 2021, after prolonged pressure and threats, BELAZ did not extend the labour contract of Alexey Gubich, the SPM local chair. After his dismissal, four members of SPM local union were deprived of bonus payments.

On 7 December, SPM member Viktor Mikhalchik was detained in Grodno for two days and later fined with BYN800 (US$310).

The harassment of union members is also leading to discrimination with SPM union members excluded from the lists of workers entitled to various additional payments and incentives under collective agreements.

Writing to the chairman of the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus, IndustriALL general secretary Atle Høie says:

“We urge you to immediately release all union leaders and activists who are illegally detained, including Artyom Zhernak, and to stop the continuing violations of international obligations in accordance with ILO Convention 87, ratified by Belarus.”