“Cosmetics” for workers, or why amend the Labour Code

    The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection announced amendments to the Labour Code. It happened on November 19 during an online meeting of the National Council on Labour and Social Issues (NCLSI).

    “The proposals made are intended to show the activity of the Federation of Trade Unions allegedly to protect the rights of workers, all the amendments are of a cosmetic nature which in no way will affect the position of workers”, notes the BKDP lawyer Elena Eskova.

    The leader of the REP (Belarusian Trade Union of workers of radio and electronic industry) trade union Gennady Fedynich believes that the announced amendments are intended “for employers but not for employees”.


    Legalizing remote work

    It is planned to supplement the Labour Code with the norms providing that remote work can be not only permanent but also temporary (not more than six months in a calendar year), and that it can also be carried out by alternating work remotely and at the workplace in an organization (combined work).

    Remote work will not require any amendments to the employment contract and will be carried out on the basis of an order issued by the employer. However, the condition for the performance of the combined work will be included in the employment contract.

    BKDP lawyer Elena Eskova considers the proposed innovations to be “cosmetic”.

    “Combining remote work with staying at the workplace is possible even now. But the provision on combining remote work and staying at the workplace must be included in the employment contract. I would say that introducing such a provision into an employment contract limits the rights of employees because it is always more difficult to amend an existing employment contract”, the lawyer said.


    Belarusian response to COVID-19

    According to the Deputy Minister, the new article of the draft law provides for the right of an employee to be released from work to undergo medical examination while maintaining the average earnings at the place of employment. The number of days off from work will be determined depending on the age of the person.

    After all medical examinations employees will be required to provide the employer with documents confirming that they have passed the medical examination.

    – This was suggested by the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus in connection with the fact that many countries of the world are taking serious measures to combat COVID. In fact, there are no serious anti-COVID measures in Belarus: no compensation, nothing else. If the employer does not let the employee go, and it is difficult to undergo medical examination outside of working hours, it is necessary to look for a way out. So they suggested: young employees are freed from work for 1 day every three years to undergo medical examination with preservation of average earnings, employees after 40 years will be released from work with the preservation of average earnings once a year, and employees who has 5 years before the generally established retirement age, as well as those who have reached retirement age, will be provided with 2 days a year with the preservation of average earnings. This norm can be assessed as positive, however, it will not significantly affect the health of the population, – emphasized Elena Eskova.


    Reduced working hours instead of a “maternal” day

    The Labour Code announced new approaches in relation to parents raising three or more children under the age of 16 or a disabled child under the age of 18: at the request of the employee and in agreement with the employer, instead of one free day a week, set the employee a reduced duration of work (shift) for one hour with pay.

    – A free day is still more convenient. However, if it is offered to reduce working hours by 1 day, it is quite possible that employers will be able to put pressure on such employees and not provide a day but force them to reduce the working hours on that day with subsequent working it off entirely”, admits Elena Eskova.


    Money instead of milk for harmful exposure allowance

    An employee working in harmful and (or) hazardous working conditions, upon application, can receive monetary compensation instead of milk or equivalent food products.

    – How many different precedents have already been when something is replaced by monetary compensation… And then, against the background of high prices and low salaries, this compensation simply dissolves and does not significantly affect the financial situation of the employee. We have a lot of employees working in hazardous, especially hazardous industries (outdated technologies, old equipment), and if a person received specific products for harmfulness, he used them for their intended purpose. I do not think that scanty compensations will help health, – notes Elena Eskova.

    The leader of the REP trade union Gennady Fedynich adds that “milk for harm” is a legacy of Soviet times.

    – I think many employees will choose compensation for milk, but it is not everywhere. And besides, its amount is scanty: an employee can receive, for example, BYN 50 for 20 working days. And as for employers, it is easier and more profitable for them to give milk. But who will control the process? – says Fedynich.


    Leave for examinations

    – The Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB) also proposes to provide leave to employees who study by correspondence. Indeed, there is an imbalance in the Labour Code that the employer was bound with an obligation to provide such leave if a person studies under the direction of the employer. And everyone who studies independently wants to improve their qualifications, and not necessarily in the profession in which they work, the employer often did not provide such leave. FPB proposes to prescribe that the employer must provide such leave without fail. This is not bad, – the BKDP lawyer agrees. – But this is still a draft: it often happened when good proposals for employees “disappeared” in the final version of the draft law.

    – There is a contract system in Belarus. Last year, amendments were made to the Labour Code making it the worst in the world. This year, new grounds for dismissal were introduced into the Labour Code: for participation or in a call for a strike or for absence from work due to administrative arrest, which is absolutely not related to labour relations. In addition, decree No. 6 has recently appeared on the mandatory characteristics for everyone who works at government agencies and enterprises the 50% of the shares of which are owned by the state.

    – There must be stability of legislation, the rights of both trade unions and employees must be guaranteed. But when the legislation is constantly changing, this suggests that the state itself is unstable and it does not respect human and employee rights, ignores them. Instead of listening to demands and conducting a dialogue, the authorities are introducing tougher amendments to the Labour Code. We are witnessing a constant systemic process to reduce the level of labour guarantees and restrictions on human rights, – says Elena Eskova.

    The leader of the REP trade union Gennady Fedynich also believes that such changes could be introduced by a decree of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, there is no need to change the Labour Code. “The Labour Code is not a book of reviews”, he emphasized.