IndustriALL: It is necessary to stop the suppression of trade unions in Belarus
Independent trade unions in Belarus are under threat as employers and government agencies use every opportunity to intimidate and fire independent trade union members.
Following the controversial presidential election in August 2020, many employees withdrew from the pro-government Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus and joined independent trade unions that uphold democratic values and fight for basic human and worker rights.
However, crackdown in relation to trade union offices followed in response to the growing power of independent trade unions. Union leaders and activists were arrested, fined, and their homes were searched.
At the state-owned oil refinery OJSC Naftan, anti-union actions such as intimidation and firing of leaders and members of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BNP) have led to a sharp decline in union membership.
The head of the BNP primary organization at Naftan, Olga Britikova, and several activists, including deputy chairmen, were fired. Many BNP members did not have their short-term contracts prolonged. However, there are several cases where employment contracts were immediately prolonged as soon as the corresponding employees withdrew from the BNP.
Employees of Naftan had to withdraw from the union under the threat of disciplinary action, loss of bonuses and incentives for professional excellence, failure to pass qualification exams, calls to the security service for preventive interviews and dismissal due to staff reductions.
Naftan has applied a recent amendment to the Belarus Labour Code that allows employers to fire workers for absenteeism “in connection with serving an administrative penalty in the form of administrative detention” in order to get rid of unwanted trade union activists. One of the reasons for this administrative detention is the dissemination through mass media of materials of extremist nature – often it is about materials that employees published on social networks long before they were declared extremist.
BNP Chairman Maksim Poznyakov said:
“What is happening in Belarus could be described in one word – terror. The purpose of all these actions is to instill in workers the fear of potential loss of jobs, livelihoods and freedom.
Whether this will continue further depends on the workers. Do not forget a simple idea that has proven its efficiency – our strength is in unity!”
In a letter to Naftan‘s management, IndustriALL general secretary Atle Høie urged the company to stop harassing BNP leaders and members, refrain from threatening to fire employees who freely choose to join a union, and immediately reinstate all unfairly dismissed employees.
Another IndustriALL affiliate in Belarus, Free Metalworkers’ Union (SPM), recently has reported on the pressure on union members in the city of Mogilev where the trade union received requests from members to terminate their membership and provide written confirmation of termination.
Assistant General Secretary of IndustriALL Kemal Özkan said:
“Any pressure on trade union members to withdraw from the union is illegal and must be stopped. Employees have the right to join a trade union and be a member of a trade union of their choice in accordance with the Constitution of Belarus and ILO Convention No. 87 ratified by Belarus”.