Belarus is a country of temporary workers and employees. The experience can be contagious
To make silent slaves out of workers is the aim of the current leadership of Belarus. On the demand of President Lukashenko a universal and compulsory contract labor system has been introduced in the country. This system of contract labor has turned practically the entire economic population into temporary workers. The employers have concluded short-term contracts with the overwhelming majority of workers and employees. The issue of how to fight this kind of serfdom was discussed for the first time by the representatives of independent trade unions, NGOs and the political parties during the debates organized in September inMinsk .
Prior to the introduction of forced short-term contracts was the Presidential Decree # 29 of 1999 “ On additional measures for improving labor relations and strengthening of labor discipline” Its primary aim was to stimulate the work of technicians. Their wages were supposed to be raised and working conditions be improved. However, that document gave the employers the opportunity to sign labor contracts with all the categories of workers and employees and for the short terms. Nevertheless, the trade unions at that time managed to prevent the employers from use the Decree. In 2002-2003 after using pressure and threats, the state authorities have substituted the leadership of the former Belarusian Federation of Trade Union (FPB) and the leaders of almost all the branch unions. Only then, the employers’ hands became untied. Finally, in 2004 on the demand of the President all the workers and employees were moved to the short-term contract system. Although according to the Decree, the contracts were supposed to be concluded for the period from one up to five years of duration but most of the employers have made it a rule to have a one-year contract.
Separate independent unions at the enterprise level alone could not resist that campaign. When concluding the contracts the employers promised wage increase. That is why even some of the union activists have yielded the temptation and substituted their permanent contracts by short-term ones. The tragedy became apparent one year after when the time came to extend the contracts. Nevertheless, it was already late.
The short-term contract became a powerful weapon in the hands of the state and state controlled employers against the dissidence among the workers. Careless critical remarks directed against employer or, God forbid, against state authority may result in loosing job even for a highly professional specialist, technician or a worker.
“The workers who have contracts without time-limits for fear of loosing job are not running risk either to create or join the independent unions. Consequently, the opinion and the needs of a worker are neglected when the size of his wage or the working conditions are defined. Today there are no negotiations between the worker and the employer. There is only the dictatorship on the part of the employer. The worker must sign the contract that contains only the conditions of the employer. If the worker refuses to sign it then he will be fired immediately” – said Vasili Levchenkov, Chairman of the Free Metalworkers’ Union (SPM). According to him if members of independent unions at the company wish that their contracts were extended so then the employer says that they must leave the independent union. Usually it was done privately. That is why it is impossible to prove it in the court. “The coincidence in time of extending the contract and leaving the union can serve as an indirect evidence of such pressure” – added the leader of the SPM.
The debate participants were unanimous in concluding that the existing contract system is a real serfdom for workers. The questioning conducted by independent unions and public organizations in 2005 showed that many workers want to come back to contracts without time-limits but today it is hardly possible. A.Lukashenko used to repeat several times that there would be no comeback to former standards of labor relations.
The participants stated with conviction that for the regime the existing system of contract labor is an opportunity to keep the people in obedience and the state will hardly ever agree to loose this instrument voluntary,. “The socially active people in the Eastern region of are fighting against the contract system by leaving for to work their. In such a way they are defending their right for human dignity”, stated Viktor Andreev, one of the authors of the Internet-site www.kontraktunet.info.
Different ways of struggle against contract system was proposed during the debates from setting up of the initiative group and introduction of amendments into the Labor Code and the repeal of the Decree # 29 up to the ratification of the ILO Convention 158 and going on general strike. However, the effectiveness of these actions may have zero effect unless the negative public opinion on contracts among the workers and employees is formed and their support is enlisted.
The participants of the debates are willing to go on with such meetings so as jointly to solve the problem that touches upon the interests of the substantial part of the population. ”The change of the contract system is the basic task of trade unions. Once this problem is solved, the unions will receive recognition from all the workers and employees not only in. If the existing system of contract labor is “settled down” on Belarusian land then there is a danger of its expansion in other countries”, - summed up one of the trade union activist.
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