Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 July 2014, 14:54 GMT

2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Belarus

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 8 June 2011
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2011 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Belarus, 8 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ea6622328.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 9,600,000
Capital: Minsk
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

After a brief period of renewed dialogue between the authorities and the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP), the situation has again deteriorated. Trade union members have been harassed, blackmailed, arrested and dismissed. New presidential decrees undermining trade union rights have also been adopted.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN LAW

Trade unions operate in a harsh legal environment. The 1996 Constitution transferred all powers to the President, giving him the right to enact decrees that carry the weight of law. While the Constitution technically recognises freedom of association, union registration is extremely difficult. The minimum membership requirement is prohibitively high, and a letter from the employer confirming the address of the union is needed. Trade unions can be deleted from the register by a decision of the registrar, without any court procedure, if the organisation is held to violate legislation or its own statutes, or if the union's recorded data is no longer correct. Foreign assistance may not be offered without the consent of the authorities.

Furthermore, while the right to collective bargaining is recognised, disputes that arise during bargaining and that cannot be settled by the parties must be referred to conciliation, or, failing conciliation, to the National Labour Arbitrage. Strikes can only be held within three months after conciliation has failed, and the length of the strike must be announced in advance. Furthermore, the President has wide powers to cancel or suspend a strike. A minimum service must also be ensured during all strikes. Finally, "Discrediting the Republic of Belarus", meaning giving "false statements" on the country's political, social or economic situation, is punishable with arrest or imprisonment for up to two years.

TRADE UNION RIGHTS IN PRACTICE AND VIOLATIONS IN 2010

Background: On 19 December Mr. Lukashenko, President since 1994, was elected for a fourth five-year term. Mass protest actions followed the elections, many participants were arrested, and criminal investigations against over 30 people were initiated. The EU Foreign Ministers Council imposed travel restrictions and froze the assets of Belarusian officials responsible for the elections and the subsequent crackdown on the opposition, on civil society, and on independent media.

Extensive right to draft short-term contracts: The entry into force of Presidential Decree No. 29 of 1999 gave the employers the right to sign one-year contracts with all workers. The conclusion of these contracts is completely at the employers' discretion, and workers previously employed on permanent contracts can be dismissed if they refuse to accept the new ones. In case a one-year contract is signed, the employer has no obligation to renew it, even if the position and the work remain. The introduction of these measures has resulted in a situation where nearly 90% of all employees in Belarus work under short-term employment contracts.

On 31 March 2010 Presidential Decree No.164 concerning short-term contracts was signed. It gave an employer the right to conclude a longer contract with a worker who had not violated labour discipline and who had already been employed for not less than five years. It did not, however, envision the transformation of a short-term contract into a permanent one. Furthermore, while considered an improvement to working conditions, employers were able to sign such contracts in the past too.

ILO recommendations still not implemented, EU trade benefits are withdrawn: Since 21 June 2007 the decision of the European Union's Council of Ministers to withdraw Belarus' benefits under the system of generalised special preferences (GSP) is in force. The European Commission has confirmed that the EU position can only change once the ILO conventions are fully implemented, and that the EU will follow the ILO appraisal of the situation. In June 2009 the ILO International Labour Conference (ILC) concluded that, while the measures already taken were duly appreciated, the Government was to "redouble its efforts" so that the ILO would be in position to note significant progress at its meeting next year.

Despite the ILO Commission of Inquiry recommendations, as well as numerous conclusions by the Committee on the Application of Standards (CAS) of the ILC and of the ILO Governing Body, the government of Belarus has failed to improve the trade union rights situation. An Action Plan for the implementation of the ILO Commission of Inquiry recommendations was prepared by the government in 2009 (see the 2010 edition of the Annual Survey), but it only contained general words and expectancies and has till now not been complemented with concrete content.

There are also no proposals to amend Presidential Decree No. 2 on registration, the Law on Mass Actions, and Presidential Decree No. 24 concerning the use of foreign gratuitous aid, as requested by the ILO Commission of Inquiry. On the contrary, in 2010 legislation further limiting trade union rights was adopted.

As a consequence trade unions continue to operate in a difficult environment. Independent trade unions still face obstacles when registering under Presidential Decree No. 2. Members of trade unions affiliated to the Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) suffer from anti-union discrimination, including dismissals and the non-renewal of employment contracts, as well as pressure and harassment. National legislation also does not guarantee the right of unions to organise their activities free from interference by the public authorities.

Pro-union decision revoked: On 18 November 2008 the State commission for managing state-owned buildings took a decision to decrease tenfold the rent for public organisations, including all trade unions, compared to the rent for commercial organisations. Immediately afterwards, at the 303rd Session of the ILO Governing Body, the Vice-Prime Minister of Belarus V.Potupchik declared this was a measure to eliminate antiunion discrimination in the country.

However, on 23 October 2009, Presidential Decree No. 518 "On some issues related to renting and gratis using of state property" was issued and the State commission for managing state-owned buildings abolished. During 2010 when determining the rent payment, a 0.1 reduction factor could be applied to organisations in compliance with a list approved by the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus and agreed to by the President.

On 5 November 2010 Presidential Decree No. 569 was issued, allowing all trade unions to use the 0.1 reduction factor when renting state property. The decree is set to come into force in February 2011.

Access to workplace limited: On 22 January 2010 Yuri Shvets, Chairperson of the independent union at "Mozyr oil refinery" LLC, had his permanent admission card – which gave him access to the company premises – blocked electronically by the employer. The employer then demanded to substitute it with a temporary and limited admission card, though even the legal address and the location of the decision making body of the union was registered at the company.

Trade union leaders dismissed: The "Lavsanstroi" JSC construction company in Mogilev refused to renew the employment contract of Nikolai Rasiuk, an activist of the Belarusian Free Trade Union (SPB). On 2 February 2010 he was brought to the chief engineer's room and interrogated by three KGB officers concerning the organising of mass protest actions.

On 26 February 2010 a young worker named Viacheslav Reut, member of the Free Metalworkers' Union (SPM), was dismissed by his employer "LES", a company making instruments. The dismissal came one day after an application to have the union dues transferred for newly affiliated members of the union.

On 23 November 2009 Yury Loban, an employee of the Belarusian heavy-duty truck manufacturer "BelAZ", saw his contract terminated despite protests by his team members and by other employees. On 4 January 2010 the Zhodino court of the Minsk region considered the claim for reinstatement by Mr. Loban but refused to satisfy the claim.

On 4 May 2010 Leonid Gaishun, a member of the Belarusian Free Trade Union (SPB) and operator of automated and semi-automated machines at the Bobruisk Tractor Parts and Components company, was dismissed upon expiry of his contract. He was a highly qualified worker and had been employed at the company for more than 36 years, including more than five years as specified by the Presidential Decree No. 29, 1999. The real reason for his dismissal was his affiliation to the SPB.

Trade union leader dismissed after new trial: On 18 December 2009 the Chashniki district court in Vitebsk Oblast reinstated Alexey Gabriel, leader of the Free Trade Union (SPB) at the Lukoml Hydroelectric plant. The court ordered the employer to renew Gabriel's contract for the duration of his term as a trade union officer. It was the first time when a worker was able to convince the court to overturn an anti-union dismissal (see the 2010 edition of the Annual Survey).

On 1 January 2010 Mr. Gabriel returned to his work. However, the employer appealed against the court decision, and the Chashniki Prosecutor's office also protested against the decision. As a result the case of Gabriel was put to a new trial in the Oktyabtrski district court in the town of Vitebsk. On 5 March 2010 during the new trial the claim for reinstatement was dismissed, and the court of appeal agreed with this decision. On 21 May 2010 Gabriel was finally dismissed.

Union activist kept on standby after appeal to Prosecutor: The chairperson of the local union of the Belarusian Free Trade Union (SPB) at "Minsk automated line production" company, Alexander Surov, appealed to the Partizanski Prosecutor's office of Minsk after the chief of the company, in violation of the collective agreement, unilaterally reviewed the time rate and wage scale in the pattern-shop, decreasing the employees' salary. After making this appeal, A.Surov was persecuted by management. During 2010 he was not admitted to his work but was kept on standby – a measure involving reduced pay during temporary halts in production – with a miserable pay below USD 100 per month. In February he had been notified of redundancy starting 17 May, but his dismissal was postponed throughout the year.

Trade union leader detained and found guilty for meeting with members: Natalia Mikhnyukevich, the Chairwoman of the Soligorsk regional organisation of the Belarusian Independent Union (BNP), was detained by police on 4 August 2010 when she tried to meet union members of "Delta Style" JV near the entrance to the company. She had earlier tried to secure a meeting with "Delta Style" at the company but had been refused. Natalia Mikhnyukevich was taken to the Soligorsk police station and was requested to explain her presence near the company gates. She was subsequently accused for holding an illegal trade union meeting near the company premises. On 27 August 2010 she was called before court and was found guilty and handed an administrative fine.

Trade union members pressured to leave their union: Since the beginning of 2010 mass pressure has been put on members of the free trade union at Bobruisk Tractor Parts & Components. Managers and shop foremen have forced members of the local organisation affiliated to the Belarusian Free Trade Union (SPB) to fill in forms requesting management of the company to exclude them from the union affiliated to SPB and to join the Automobile and Agricultural Machine Building Worker's Union (AAMBWU), which is affiliated to the state controlled Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB).

Members of the local union affiliated to the Belarusian Independent Union (BNP) at the "GrodnoAzot" chemical company were also subjected to pressure by management from 2006 to 2009. In February 2010 persecutions of the unionists started again. In a move to force the workers to leave their union, shop managers threatened them with dismissal, deprivation of bonuses and failure to pass the workers' qualification exams. Furthermore, in February the administration of the Bobruisk tractor parts and aggregates plant warned the SPB of early termination of its office space lease, which was scheduled to end in 2012.

Union activists arrested for participating in peaceful protest: Ten activists of the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Workers' Union (REPAM), the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM) and the Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB) were among the hundreds of protesters arrested during the peaceful protest against the results of the presidential elections in Minsk on 19 December 2010. They were sentenced to 10-15 days of administrative arrest for participating in the rally. Among those sentenced were Mikhail Kovalkov, Chairman of the SPB, Alexei Kovtun, a member of the SPB, Alexander Tysevich, a member of the REPAM, and Vladimir Sergeev, a member of SPM.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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