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New Labour Code will undermine workers' rights in Belarus

27 February, 2017Proposed amendments to the Labour Code in Belarus will significantly weaken workers’ rights and lead to social instability in the country say trade unions. The government’s proposals could be considered by parliament as early as April 2017.

The planned amendments are mainly based on the Presidential Decrees No. 29 "On supplementary measures to develop labour relations, to strengthen labour and executive discipline" and No. 5 "On strengthening requirements to the executives and workers of organizations". Both decrees have been seriously criticized by the International Labour Organization (ILO) for their non-conformity to the ILO Conventions ratified by Belarus.

In contradiction to the existing Labour Code, Presidential Decree No. 29 introduced a system of widespread short-term contracts. As a result, up to 90 per cent of employees were shifted from permanent to one-year contracts, often without their prior consent. According to the Belarusian Constitution a presidential decree prevails over national laws. In absence of any protection against anti-union discrimination, many workers had to withdraw from independent trade unions.

Later, under pressure from trade unions and the general public, the decree was amended and certain categories of employees saw their contracts increased by up to three or even five years, although their legal status did not change.

The proposed amendments based on decree No. 5 once again shift more power to the employer and stripped workers of their rights.

"The consequences of the decree resulted in transformation of the contract based labour relations, into a legal enforcement tool, which is contrary to ILO Convention 29 - said Nikolay Zimin, Belarusian Independent trade union of Miners, Chemical workers, Oil-refiners, Energy, Transport, Construction and other workers.

Alexander Bukhvostov, Free Metalworkers' Union (SPM) explains that, “Proposed changes to the Labour Code will make the use of forced labour a normal practice among certain categories of workers.”

“All amendments to labour legislation will only worsen workers’ situation. For instance all of chapter 38 has been removed regulating compensations for disability as result of a trauma at work. Also holidays would be reduced by an average of six days," explains Gennady Fedynich, Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union.

“Unfortunately, trade unions are deprived of the opportunity to make legislative initiatives. We have to ask MPs or contact the National Centre for Legal Information. Our union has studied the issue, made a complete analysis of the proposed changes, involved the legal community, and now we are working with MPs so that they can influence the bill," explains Svetlana Klochok, Belarusian Trade Union of Chemical, Mining and Oil Industries Workers.

Despite the complexity of the situation, the Belarusian trade unions are not giving up. IndustriALL affiliates repeatedly appealed to the legislative bodies of Belarus demanding the abolition of the decree No. 29, and suspension of the decree No. 5.

Kemal Özkan, assistant general secretary of IndustriALL Global Union, says: "IndustriALL is seriously concerned about the proposed changes to the Labour Code. In a time of economic crisis in Belarus, further oppression of working people through national legislation could undermine social stability in Belarus. Under such circumstances, instead of attracting foreign investors to the country, the authorities run the risk of driving them away."