Ex-activists of large factories – about their year after the elections
The results of the presidential elections in Belarus in the summer of 2020 caused a wave of protests among the residents of the country. The protests were joined by workers of enterprises, including large plants – MTZ (Minsk Tractor Works), MZKT (Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant), MAZ (Minsk Automobile Plant) and others. Some of them paid the price for their active political position – they lost their jobs at once. Many workers got their employment record books back with a record under a certain article of the law. Former workers of factories told what they are doing now and how their life is going after the presidential elections
Ex-worker of METZ (Minsk Electrotechnical Plant): “All the courts ended the same for all of us: everything was correct, we were dismissed on legal grounds”
Vitaly Chichmarev worked as a leading engineer at the Minsk Electrotechnical Plant. On October 26, the day when Svetlana Tikhanovskaya announced the People’s ultimatum, the employees of the enterprise reported that all workshops, except workshops No. 10 and 11, were not working. “The plant practically stopped because workshops No. 6, 9 and 16, which give work to the rest, were not working”. On this day, Chichmarev was on a paid leave, hovever, this did not save him from being fired.
– I came to the plant on November 2 after my paid leave, but I was not allowed to work. On the same day, I learned that I was fired. Even my immediate management was not aware of this fact; the decision of the director general was as a surprise to him. In my employment record book they wrote that I was fired for allegedly causing economic damage to the enterprise in the amount of at least three average monthly salaries. Then they decided to fire 25 more people. 15 of us decided to appeal the dismissal in court. I was told that I was the organizer of the strike at the plant, that I was in control of what was happening and that because of me two workshops did not operate for almost two days”, – says Vitaly. – I asked them to explain to me how I was able to cause damage while sitting in front of the computer at work and then being on a paid leave at home? The answers were very lengthy. We were not even informed about this investigation, we were not aware of what was written in the papers. They said the total amount of damage inflicted by us was about 60 thousand rubles. But, of course, if the economic damage really was caused due to the fact that people did not work, then its amount was much less.
The workers of the plant tried to prove that the dismissal was illegal; they applied to the district court and city court.
– We have not yet applied to the Supreme Court. And we will go to the end, – Vitaly continues. – All the previous trials for all of us, naturally, ended the same way: everything was correct, we were dismissed on legal grounds. But in fact, I can guess why they got rid of me. Because I started working as an independent trade union at METZ – I became the chairman of the primary unit. At the courts, the factory lawyer used to say “the so-called independent trade union”. At that time, out organization already had about 60 members.
According to Vitaly, an independent trade union is still active at the plant. True, they did not manage to legalize it completely.
– Our trade union is officially registered with the Free Metalworkers’ Union (SPM). But any trade union unit must also get registered at the place of work. And we were not registered at the plant, – explains the former employee of the METZ. – We conduct trade union activities, but currently we do it only in case when some of the workers need help, when someone turns to us. We help as much as we can. For example, one of our members was fired not so long ago because he fell under Article 23.34. Although they did not have a right to fire him because he had a year and a half left until his retirement. He did not know this and signed all the documents that were given to him. We helped him find a new job. We also helped the workers of one of the shops switch from piece-rate wages to time-based wages.
Vitaly says that all of the 26 dismissed workers after October 26 found a job, despite the articles indicated in their employment record books as reasons for their dismissal.
– One girl left the country, she was very active. Several welders also went to work abroad, to Sudan. They were offered very good salaries. They thought that if they work there for six months, and then just sit here for six months, then the amount for living per month will be much larger than if they get a job in Belarus. The rest stayed in our country. The dismissed workshop foreman got a job in a private company as the head of the welding workshop. And then he helped a few more of his former colleagues get there as well, – Vitaly says. – I have a slightly different situation. In addition to working at the factory, I was also a pastor of the church. Now I decided to just be a pastor for a year. I have worked like this since January.
Ex-worker of MTZ: “I just want our country to have a normal standard of living, normal salaries”
Sergey Dylevsky worked as a thermist at the Minsk Tractor Works in the summer of 2020. After the events of August, he became chairman of the MTZ strike committee, as well as a member of the presidium of the Coordination Council for organizing the process of overcoming the political crisis. For his active position, he paid with a job and became a defendant in a criminal case under several articles.
– They made me leave the Tractor Works. My parents still work there. I was blackmailed, they said either I would leave myself, or me and my parents would be fired under the article. I consulted with my family, with the activists and decided to leave. Before that, they tried to fire me for allegedly being absent from work. I was under arrest for a month – until September 18th. After release I came to work. They wanted to write the month I spent in prison as absence with no good reason. But the department of labour and wages stood up for me. The head of the department said that this was not possible, that they all knew perfectly well where I had spent that month. Then they managed to defend me, however, they found other levers of influence, – recalls Sergey Dylevsky. – They wanted to fire me because I became engaged the strike committee, then in an independent trade union, and later became a member of the Coordination Council.
Sergei’s employment record book does not indicate any articles; it is written that he was dismissed by agreement of the parties.
– I was fired in 45 minutes. This is a kind of a record for the Tractor Works. Usually, if a person regigns, he is forced to run around the offices for a week and sign various pieces of paper”, – says Sergey with a smile. – For about a week after my dismissal, I continued to engage in the strike movement, organized evening tea parties. Then a criminal case was initiated against the Coordination Council. At first I was brought to court as a witness. Then at some point I became an accused. Then they added the organization of mass riots and the compulsion to strike, they put me on the wanted list. I had to hastily leave for Poland.
Since then, Sergei has lived there; he is still a member of the Presidium of the Coordination Council and, as he says, is trying to change our country for the better.
– A few months ago we founded the public organization “Belarusian Workers’ Union” aimed at protecting the rights of both workers in Belarus and Belarusians abroad. We constantly work very closely with 12 Belarusian enterprises. In fact, the wave of protest has not gone anywhere, as it might seem. It has even intensified. Our department fights for the rights of people who are still fired for strikes in August and September.
Sergei Dylevsky hopes that all this will end soon. “Actually, everything depends on the people inside the country. Almost every Belarusian who is outside our country does everything possible to end it as soon as possible”, – he says.
– Now I work as a freelancer because I need to eat something ! – he says with a smile. – I have agreements with the guys from Belarus who left the country much earlier – 5-10 years ago. They have their own business in Poland, small enterprises. And I, as a welder, periodically come and carry out orders for welding metal structures. I hope to return to Belarus soon. If I wasn’t going to return, I would already have my own business here. I can only say one thing: working two days a week here I earn more than in Belarus per month. I want our people to live like this in our country.
Sergei dreams of opening his own car service and repairing cars after his return to Belarus.
– This is my job, I like it. I want to do this. I really don’t see myself as a big politician. I just want our country to have a normal standard of living, normal salaries so that you can work and earn money but not try to keep afloat with your last bit of strength as it is now.
Another ex-employee of MTZ: “Yes, they keep on bringing me to investigating committee and other structures, so what?”
Mikhail Gromov is also a former employee of MTZ. He was fired later than Sergei Dylevsky.
– They decided to say goodbye to me on October 26, when other workers and I tried to gather on the territory on the day of the people’s ultimatum. It was clear that the administration was better prepared than we were. Therefore, nothing really worked out for us at that day. About 300 people came out to strike. On the same day they announced to me that I was fired, – says Mikhail. – But since we did not violate anything from the point of view of legislation, so it took them time to find a reason for my dismissal. A couple of days later, they gave me my employment record book back under the grounds of being absent from work. Several more people were fired with me – those who were immediately identified, because many were wearing masks. Plus, a lot depended on the heads of the shops. If the head of the shop did not give the go-ahead for the dismissal of his workers, then they did not fire them. Some were afraid to defend their employees, while others were not.
The former factory worker says that on the first days after the elections the wave of indignation at the factory was very strong. On August 14, as he says, about 300-500 people went to the square.
– You need to take into account that it was Friday and in the evening many people already had things planned. When on that day there was a meeting at the plant, several thousand workers came out to talk with the management. And on Monday, August 17, the director opened the gates and let everyone out because there were a lot of people then, probably four thousand. If we take into account that there were between 8 and 10 thousand people on the first shift, then, consider, half of the plant left, – Mikhail says. – It is impossible to say that the strikes completely failed and did not give any result. The reaction to this continues to this day – they are trying to find the culprit, who started it, who “financed” it, prepared it. The workers are still being harassed by the investigating authorities.
Mikhail also notes that after the strikes many workers were fired, so those who remained now have more opportunities to defend their rights.
– Because the authorities already begin to understand that it is impossible to fire people without looking back. This is the first thing. The second thing is that they saw how many people were involved, one way or another, in all of this. So, how did it start? They began to fire people in August. They immediately got rid of those who were active at the plant. Then it came to those who went out to the yard marches and so on. And then they even dealt with those who voted not for the “right” candidate. And it turned out that they had to fire almost the entire plant. Within the period between August and early January, several hundred people were fired. I think the plant lost up to 500 workers, if you count together with those who resigned themselves.
After being fired from MTZ, Mikhail decided not to leave the country, and so he stayed here. And he says that he is not going to go anywhere.
– Yes, they keep on bringing me to investigating committee and other structures, so what? I am engaged in an independent trade union at the Tractor Works, and even before my dismissal I became the chairman of the unit. The trade union is trying to do something for the workers in the current situation. People are not ready to defend their rights. In summer and autumn, there were impulsive walks out. At that time the marches were joined not only by those who were against the government, but also by those who were against violence. People were outraged that they could not even get home safely – there were many people beaten after the elections.
But later, as the former factory worker says, the decisiveness diminished.
– However, seeing where our economy is heading to, the next strikes will be related to non-payment of wages. Workers have never been paid properly. And now the authorities are trying to save money everywhere and in everything, the situation is worsening.
Now Mikhail cannot officially get a job because, like many other activists, according to him, he was blacklisted for employment.
– Therefore, now I have to take odd jobs and have occasional earnings. However, I do not live in misery. I will definitely not starve. I work in different places under construction contracts. I don’t know if I should open my own business now, taking into account how the authorities treat private traders.