Belarus: one of the terrible ten worst countries for workers’ rights
Workers in this Eastern European country face discrimination, forced labour, and repression of protests. The case of hunger-striking workers jailed for protesting their unfair dismissal continues. This follows labour laws introduced by President Lukashenko that prohibits farming and forestry workers from being able to leave their jobs at will that the President himself compares to serfdom.
Hunger strike workers in Belarus face jail: Four metalworkers in Belarus, who went on a two-day hunger strike to bring public attention to their unfair dismissal, are now facing a fine or even jail. The desperate workers, who were employed by the Bobruisk Factory of Tractor Parts and Units (BZTDiA), were detained by police on 10 November 2014 while they were on hunger strike, and accused of unauthorised public protest. The workers, who are all members of the Free trade Union of Belarus (SPB), disagree with the accusation of an unauthorised protest and say they are in fact victims of arbitrary dismissal for being unionists. In a company response dated 14 November, the factory director said the dismissals were due to the optimisation of the factory workforce and were not linked to their SPB membership. However, BZTDiA has been advertising for new workers with the same skills as the people who were fired.
Workers wrote an open letter to the President of the Belarus last month, raising their concerns about how their factory is managed and the way in which the director was abusing the country’s short-term contract system to dismiss highly skilled professionals for being unionists. The government response was simply to endorse the company’s position. The system of short-term contracts and its use in persecution of trade union activists in Belarus has been heavily criticised by the international labour movement. It formed part of the complaint against violations of Freedom of Association submitted to the International Labour Organisation in 2000. Since then the ILO has regularly considered the Belarusian case, noting little or no progress in implementing recommendations made by an ILO Commission of Inquiry.
The Terrible Ten:
At the ILO conference earlier this month, the International Trade Union Confederation launched its 2015 Global Rights Index, detailing the ten worst countries for workers’ rights abuses in the world, and reporting in detail violations in those and many more. Stronger Unions is profiling one of the terrible ten each day.