The Charter97.org has asked Zinaida Mikhnyuk, the head of the Brest regional branch of the REP Trade Union, to comment on the situation in the labour market:
"Your call was very timely: I'll tell you some stories of our unionists about the real situation with employment in Belarus. We know it, because we often hold meetings with out groups, visit regional towns and talk to people. Last week, I visited the town of Mikashevichi. An employer there, by making use of the nasty, slavish fixed-term contract system, refused to extend labour contracts with our activists. Leonid Dubonosov is one of them. Thus, the employer got rid of a good, young specialist, and left his family with two small children without father's job! In Mikashevichi, 18 people organized a group and joined the REP Trade Union. And here is a litmus test of the situation with employment in the country: almost a half of the capable population of Mikashevichi, a town inhabited by almost 13,000, is unemployed."
"Next day we went to David-Gorodok. There, we have a group of activists at the electromechanical factory. Young women came to us, who have two, three, four children and, what's shocking, all of them are jobless! It turned out that one of them has no work record book at all. She earns money by working for local farmers. 'I might be offered a job of a cleaner for some 100 US dollars a month, but I won't feed my four children for these pennies. Farmers at least pay me something every day.' I want to note that the woman is very laborious; it's clear that she tries and is eager to work. I asked her whether she understands that she would have problems with her future pension. 'I don't worry about it – I just need to feed my children,' she told me."
"You know, in fact, I have long wanted to give an interview on the topic of employment. The problem is especially pressing in regions. People should not work for a bowl of soup! We have the constitutional right to work, but to a decent, well-paid one, so that people are not slaves, but could earn at least for the most necessary things. People have been brought to poverty! Let our bureaucrats stand to machine tools and work for a bowl of soup!"
"You talk a lot with people in localities. What are the moods in the regions?"
"People are boiling with indignation! More and more young people try to get employed abroad; and I understand and support them. Even in a large city of Brest at the 'Tsvetotron' Factory, the salary is such as not to die from hunger – 100 US dollars per month. Some time ago, the 'Brestgazoapparat' Factory was the highest-paid enterprise; now, they are also 'moaning'. A woman, our activist, earns about 700 US dollars, working in Poland as a factory cleaner. It's incomparable."
In general, in connection with this, now one of the most important tasks of our trade union is the struggle against the updated decree on "parasites".
"Your trade union is fighting against the updated ordinance on 'parasites'. People working abroad will be automatically labelled as 'parasites' and get into the information database on citizens' incomes. What would you advise them?"
"When Ordinance No. 3 came into force, I asked people not to pay the tax, explaining them "that it would be much easier to defend them at court than to adjudge the already paid money."
"You know, when 'parasites' start receiving requests to pay the tax, I think one day Belarusians will grow angry and revolt, either in coordination, or quite spontaneously. I keep saying: we just need to go out one day; and there should be more of us than the militia and the army. There are same people there; and they have same poor parents and relatives, don't they?"