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Right to strike breached in Belarus

28 October, 2020Yet again people in Belarus are standing up against Lukashenko, and yet again authorities are responding with violence and oppression.

After more than two months of protests against the rigged presidential elections in Belarus, exiled leader Svetlana Tikhanouskaya called for an indefinite national strike on 26 October to put an end to the dictatorship. The strike is widely supported by workers at both private and state-owned companies. Students and retired workers also join the protest.

But in breach of national and international labour legislation, ratified by Belarus, the regime is cracking down on the workers’ right to strike through manipulation, intimidation and violence.

Authorities are trying to block any signs of resistance at the big state-owned companies. Lukashenko’s power has traditionally relied on electoral support by workers of the big state-owned companies inherited from the Soviet Union. But unable to show a way out of the economic and political crisis in Belarus, Lukashenko has completely lost credibility among workers.

At plant level, authorities are trying to break the strike through a ban on holidays, blocking workers’ access to prevent stop them communicating with colleagues, or moving them to other shifts and also dismissals.

IndustriALL affiliate Free Trade Union of Metalworkers SPM reports of dismissals of their four activists from Minsk wheel tractor plant, including Viktor Tchaikovski leader of the SPM local and Alexander Lavrinovich, his deputy, who is also chair of the strike committee.

In the morning of 26 October, busses with riot police were spotted at many big companies.

Many workers who tried to exercise their right to protest were detained. There are reports of violent beatings during and after these detentions. At Grodno Azot, an important chemical company, at least 30 workers and their supporters were detained, some violently beaten.

On the eve of the publicly announced strike, authorities tried to block union leaders, like in the case of Belaruskali union activists led by Siarhei Charkasau, vice chairman of Belarusian Independent trade union, BITU. They still remain in jail.

Protest actions the day before the strike drew around 100,000 people to the streets of Minks, according to media reports. Some unionists were arrested, like acting president of the Radio and Electronic Industry Workers, Zinaida Mikhnyuk, who with her colleagues was detained in Brest on 25 October and also remains in detention. 

Valter Sanches, IndustriALL general secretary, says:

“The right to strike and freedom of expression are fundamental in a democratic society. They are now totally disregarded in Belarus. We call for an end to the violence against the workers and people of Belarus and that activists and political prisoners are released. 

 IndustriALL calls on an immediate investigation into the arbitrary use of power against the peaceful protesters and that democracy is restored, allowing people to freely choose their leaders.”