The ITUC never leaves its friends in misfortune
The General Secretary of the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ITUC) Guy Ryder addressed recently his affiliates and the Global Union Federations in view of the withdrawal of from the GSP. The aim of the address is to support the independent trade union movement of which risks finding itself under the attacks of the government. The leader of the biggest and most influential workers’ international organization emphasizes, that all the blame for the GSP withdrawal rests with the government of theRepublicofBelarussince the steps it undertook in responses of the ILO’s recommendations proved to be insincere, equivocal and by no means promoting of trade union rights and freedoms.
To all affiliated organisations
To all Global Union Federations
Withdrawal of Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) of the European Union from Belarus
The ITUC, with the support of our colleagues in the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), is writing to you with regard to the withdrawal of the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) of the European Union from Belarus which is to come into force on 21 June 2007. This decision resulted from the systematic non-willingness of the government of Belarus to comply with international labour standards and to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry of the International Labour Organisation. The purpose of this letter to you is to emphasise, in a situation where the free trade union movement in Belarus risks being under attack from its government, that all blame for the GSP withdrawal must lie with the government of the Republic of Belarus, because the steps it undertook in response to the ILO’s recommendations proved to be insincere, equivocal and by no means promoting of trade union rights and freedoms.
Although the government had several years to introduce necessary changes in the national regulatory framework and to undertake other specific steps to implement these recommendations, very little was done to make it possible for trade unions to operate and exercise their legitimate activities in full freedom and without interference. The Government has so far taken a number of cosmetic measures, but did not change the most important aspects of law or practice that were the reason behind the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry and indeed the EU GSP decision.
The Government of Belarus has now started a lobbying campaign, seeking to demonstrate that the dialogue with the International Labour Office has started and that a few Recommendations have been implemented. It is true that a few steps in the right direction have been taken, and naturally the ITUC would wish the dialogue with the ILO to continue. However, such dialogue emerged only in view of the international pressure and mostly because of the EU’s decision of December 2006 on the GSP. This was clearly demonstrated once again during the latest session of the Committee on the Application of Standards of the International Labour Conference, where the Government presented a few steps taken to implement some of the Recommendations and made a lot of promises, but ultimately just wanted the Committee to conclude that “real and tangible progress” had been made, in the hope that thereby the GSP decision would likely not be enforced.
We are unimpressed by the Government’s cosmetic measures that have been taken only in order to avoid adverse economic consequences from the GSP withdrawal, at the same time as workers’ rights, including trade union rights are still being severely violated. The Government is preparing a new draft of its Trade Union Law which is still incompatible with Conventions 87 and 98; our affiliate in Belarus, the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU, or BKDP), has called this draft “The law on state control over trade unions”. Meanwhile, activities of independent trade unions are being suppressed by a combination of legislative restrictions and discrimination and interference by management and public authorities. Therefore the Committee on the Application of Standards of the International Labour Conference has now decided to include Belarus in a “special paragraph” of its annual report, indicating the gravity with which the Committee views the situation.
Instead of fully implementing the recommendations in good faith, the government has mobilised its satellite organisation - the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB, or FPB) - in an attempt to misinform the EU, the ILO and trade unions via administratively orchestrated public protests and appeals. Thereby, different trade union organisations of Belarus were requested to send petitions to the ILO and to the European Commission in which those organisations denied the violation of trade union rights in Belarus, while different trade unions of the world were requested to associate themselves with the FPB campaign by sending letters of support or appeals to the EU and its member states. In this campaign, the FPB did not shirk from any means, including falsification of signatures, in order to divert public attention from the core of the problem – the lack of respect of trade union rights in the country – by confusing that issue with other social, economic and ideological concerns. The FPB also tried to misappropriate the working bodies of the International Labour Conference: workers’ delegates of the Committee on Sustainable Enterprises and the Workers’ Group as a whole were asked to adopt a resolution against withdrawal of the GSP benefits, as if the trade union rights violations in Belarus did not exist.
We believe that the regime will do its utmost to hide the genuine reasons for the GSP withdrawal from Belarusian society and that it is searching for external and internal enemies that can be accused of bringing economic difficulties to the country and its population. We anticipate that the ITUC-affiliated organisation, the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, and other independent unionists in Belarus will be portrayed as traitors of the national interests and the interests of workers of Belarus by the regime, and we wish to express our full solidarity with them. Therefore we ask you to write to the President of Belarus, with copies to the government, the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus and the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, to emphasise the genuine reasons for the EU GSP withdrawal and to support the BKDP in their difficult struggle for trade union rights and freedoms.
The ITUC has written to President Lukashenko in this regard and in similar vein, we provide attached a model letter that you may find of use in preparing your own letter to him. Please keep us informed of your actions and any response you receive. Thank you for your cooperation.
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