Aliaksandr Yarashuk: Workers of Belarus have serfdom instead of rights
September 14-16, Secretary General of the International Trade Union Confederation Sharan Burrow visits Belarus. Our journalist decided to ask some questions to Chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, Aliaksandr Yarashuk.
- To your mind, what are the main problems related to violations of workers' rights in Belarus?
- I will draw just two eloquent examples. First of all, this is the system of short-term contracts, which is referred to in the world today as a modern serfdom, and infamous forced labor, which was introduced in the woodworking industry. These two facts are based on legal acts, the decree No. 29 of 1999 and Decree №9 from 2011. These documents have made workers in Belarus actually powerless, brought them to the status of slaves. We know a lot of examples when many enterprises have been completely transferred to short-term contracts. As a result, we have an unprecedented case, when the whole country is a place where the whole country is having temporary conditions of work, whereas the whole civilized world and the International Labour Organization are struggling
for the opportunity for workers to have regular jobs. This has nothing to do with economy: it is an eloquent political step, aimed at silencing workers, making them loyal and obedient, so that they would not mind anything and demand nothing: no decent wages, no decent working conditions.
- Who makes them agree to being transferred to short-term contracts? As far as I know, this is not the only form of employment in the country.
- This is quite interesting. Recently I have given to the program “I Have the Right” broadcast on “BelSat” TV channel. I was shown the comments of a former judge of the Constitutional Court and a scientist from the Academy of Management. I would simply like to make fun of these comments, but it is the case that does it is not funny, as far as these people try to justify this inhumane system. What is important, the Presidential Decree №29, which introduced the system of short-term contracts, was signed in 1999, and in 2000 there was adopted the Labour Code, a decent document
whose regulations concerning the employment are more or less democratic. The Labour Code states that people with permanent nature of work: turners, mechanics, teachers, and others, cannot be transferred to short-term contracts. However, they were transferred to such contracts, and thereby №29 decree entered into a confrontation with the Labour Code. It also contradicts a number of ILO conventions ratified by the Republic of Belarus.
In the early 90s, and now it's hard to believe, Belarus, who had just gained independence, was a model and an example for the International Labour Organization in the formation of all legislative norms with respect to labor relations, which was not the case for many countries in the so-called transition period.
Since 1994, the situation has been deteriorating, gradually and steadily, ending with the adoption of such odious documents.
- Is the “Woodworking decree” really implemented?
- Representatives of government trade unions often ask to be presented at least one case, in which people were affected by this document... Even the very fact of the adoption of such a document, which seems unbelievable even in Russia, witnesses that people don't have any rights at all. They even don't try to quit their job in such a situation. There was a case when one worker tried to do it at Fandok, and faced many problems.
So much for the rights of workers. And we have a huge problem with trade union rights. For this reason, during the last 10-15 years Belarus has always fallen into the so-called short list of countries where the rights of trade unions are violated most viciously and cynically. 7 times our country has been made in the special paragraph of the ILO, once there was established a commission for the investigation into such violations. The appointment of the commission, its work and the subsequent monitoring on the part of the European Union together with the demands of the International Trade Union Confederation resulted in the abolition of the EU trade preferences in 2007. The country loses hundreds of millions of Euros, which is an important sum for our economy which is far from being very effective.
Unfortunately, all this reflects the weird view of the current Belarusian government about the rights of workers and trade unions, as well as the fact that during all these years the country is run by an authoritarian regime that is becoming more stringent with respect to labor and trade unions.
That is why we have developed a special strategy to influence the situation, which includes a visit of Sharan Burrow to Belarus. We will continue not only our own struggle for our rights, but will also use the full resources of the international solidarity.
International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) is the largest, authoritative and influential trade union association in the world, which brings together 325 affiliated organizations in 161 countries and has a membership of more than 176 million. Since 2003, the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions has been a member organization of the ITUC.