1 December, 2021Independent unions in Belarus are under threat, as employers and state authorities use every chance to intimidate and dismiss independent union members, thus decreasing membership.
After the contested presidential elections in August 2020, many workers terminated their membership with the pro-government Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus and joined independent trade unions, adhering to democratic values and fighting for fundamental human and workers’ rights.
At state-owned oil refinery JSC Naftan, the anti-union actions, including intimidation and mass dismissals of union leaders and members of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU), have led to sharp decrease in membership.
BITU chairperson at Naftan, Volha Brytsikava, and several activists, including deputy chairpersons, have been fired. Many BITU members have not had their short-term contracts renewed. In contrast, there are several examples of workers who terminated their BITU membership and immediately received contract extensions.
Naftan workers have been pressured to leave the union, threatened with disciplinary penalties, deprivation of bonuses and incentive payments for professional skills, threats of not passing skills exams, summons to the security service for preventive conversations, and dismissals due to stuff reduction.
Naftan has used the recent amendment to Belarus’ labour code that allows employers to dismiss workers for absenteeism “in connection with serving an administrative penalty in the form of administrative detention” to get rid of unwanted union activists. One of the reasons for administrative detention is distributing media materials considered extremist, materials that had often been reposted by workers on social media long before.
BITU president Maxim Pazniakou says:
“What is happening in Belarus is terror. The goal of these actions is to inflict fear that workers may lose their jobs, livelihoods and freedom.
“Whether this continues or not depends on the workers. We should remember the simple but effective notion – our strength lies in unity!”
In a letter to Naftan, IndustriALL general secretary Atle Høie is urging the company to end the persecution of BITU union leaders and members, to desist from threatening with dismissals those workers who make their free choice to join a union, and to immediately reinstate all unfairly dismissed workers.
Another IndustriALL affiliate in Belarus, the Free Metalworkers' Union, has recently reported on the pressure on union members in the city of Mogilev, where the union has received requests from members to terminate their membership and to provide confirmation of the termination.
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says:
“Any pressure on union members to force them leave the union is illegal and must stop. Workers shall have the right to join and be a member of unions of their own choice, in line with the Constitution of Belarus and ILO Convention 87, ratified by Belarus.”