Aleksandr Yaroshuk: Workers are often persecuted simply for behaving with dignity

    Aleksandr Lukashenko demanded the creation of trade unions at all private enterprises by the end of 2020. What are the results? What is the situation with independent trade unions and their members against the background of the liquidation of NGOs and sanctions? The head of the “Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions” association Aleksandr Yaroshuk gave his comments to the Belorusy i rynok newspaper.

    – The authorities announced the liquidation of 185 civil society organizations. Independent trade unions were mentioned as well. So, we can say that the case will not be limited to only 60 closed organizations; the turn of our association and independent trade unions will come as well. We are most likely to be at the bottom of this list because, unlike most NGOs, independent trade unions are part of the international trade union movement. The association is part of the international trade union confederation, and the majority of the members of the association are members of global unions. Besides, we should mention the close attention of the International Labour Organization to the situation with workers’ rights in Belarus. To put it simply, we have someone to stand up for us. We can say that we are in a more advantageous position than other Belarusian NGOs; however, this provides no guarantees at all. We see what is happening in the country and understand that independent trade unions are no exception to the rule. The situation can change anytime.

    Independent trade unions have always been subjected to pressure. We are no stranger to being in harsh conditions: we have been in them for over 30 years. However, the pressure on independent trade unions and discrimination against their members has never been as strong as it is now. The vast majority of workers are hired under labour contracts. Contracts with members of independent trade unions are not prolonged. Benefits, preferences apply only to members of state trade unions. The situation is the same with promotion and higher qualifications. Workers have to make a choice: withdraw from the independent trade union or lose their jobs, better income, and career.

    The regime is afraid of any action on the parts of the workers, their participation in industrial protests and strikes. The authorities dismiss workers just for mentioning the words “protest” and “strike”. They search for documents, looking for the evidence of workers expressing their political attitudes and showing solidarity with the protesters during the events of last year. Workers are often persecuted simply for behaving with dignity and for showing human solidarity towards abused people. Some workers had nothing but to leave the country, and today the Belarusian authorities are seeking their extradition.

    The International Labour Conference, which took place in June this year, demanded to put an end to forcing businesses to form unions. Trade unions created “under constraint”, by order of the authorities, cannot be referred to as trade unions. When Belarus becomes a democratic country, workers will have the full right to form a trade union at their discretion, to become a member of any trade union at their discretion, or not to be a member of any organizations representing workers at all.

    We receive information about the behavior of the representatives of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus. They talk with business representatives in a rude and harsh manner and demand the fulfillment of Aleksandr Lukashenko’s demand as soon as possible. However, despite threats from the top, the vast majority of companies and firms have not formed their own trade unions. This is very telling.

    As for sanctions, I would like to note that there are no trade unions in the world that would advocate such actions. The consequences of the sanctions contradict the central objectives of trade unions – creating jobs, ensuring employment, decent wages. Any sanctions by default threaten the achievement of these objectives. Our association is no exception to the general rule. However, unlike the state-run trade union, we clearly distinguish between the consequences of the sanctions and those guilty in the fact of imposition of sanctions against our country. It is necessary not only to call not to impose sanctions, but also to demand that those who created the preconditions for sanctions immediately stop terror and violence against their own citizens. There is no need to provoke the international community by hijacking planes and attacking neighboring countries with the help of migrants. Such actions will invariably provoke a backlash from other countries. For instance, the EU has every right to protect its security and the interests of its citizens. This is a fundamental difference between our viewpoint and the viewpoint of state-run trade unions, which only say that the “insidious” West is illegally imposing sanctions in order to deprive workers of earnings.

    Despite the complexity of the situation, the “Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions” association and independent trade unions are good at playing the long game. We have been in this condition for many years. I have a strong belief that independent trade unions, no matter what repressive measures are applied to them, will manage to preserve themselves and adhere to their principles and values, including the principle of trade union and human solidarity.