Andrei Strizhak, a council member of the REP Trade Union, told about the IndustriALL Global Union Forum held in Bishkek.
On September 24-25, a sub-regional forum of the IndustriALL Global Union was held in the capital of Kyrgyzstan; the main was how trade unions of different countries attract new members. The forum brought together union activists from Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, USA and Ukraine. Andrei Strizhak, a participant from Belarus, told the praca-by.info website about the forum.
"What trade unions and from what countries took part in the forum?"
"It was notable by the fact that it was attended by activists of both post-Soviet "official" trade unions and independent ones, created after the collapse of the USSR. The unions were quite different: small but active ones, like REP and miners from Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, and huge unions, like Chelyabinsk metallurgists, Ukrainian defence industry, and Kyrgyz builders and seamstresses. Each has its own peculiarities of working with people, but there are several common problems. One of them is the weakness of the law before money. If investor comes into a developing economy with huge money, promising to invest millions and create hundreds of new jobs, the government is ready to turn a blind eye to violations of workers' rights. When it comes to mining, it often leads to bloody consequences: workers' deaths and injuries, and absence of decent payments to victims' families."
"Another common problem is the global trend towards reducing the number of trade unions and unionists. Non-standard forms of employment are usual practices in both Kyrgyzstan and Belarus, when employers recruit teams, say, of seamstresses to fulfil a particular order, and just dismiss them after the order is completed: without any severance pay and other benefits. And workers are forced to agree as they have no worthy alternatives. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, with its 2.2 million population, only 250,000 are officially employed under labour contracts."
"But Belarus is far from that..."
"Yes, but experts say about 600,000 Belarusians working abroad. Also, don't forget that in Belarus every employee, employed under a fixed short-term contract is helpless against a sudden dismissal by his/her employer. The fact that people don't work permanently at the same workplace; they are forced to seek work away from home; and change jobs all the time, – this all leads to the fact that the classic approach to building a trade union – by industrial sectors, or at enterprises – loses its relevance. People are no longer working under the principle 'One Life, One Enterprise, One Trade Union'. Now, people more often and easier change trades, residences and lifestyles, – not only by their own will, but also because many young professionals cannot find work, because the labour market is changing very rapidly: you train to be a welder, but have to work as a bartender."
"What ways of attracting new members or working with people have trade unions of other countries share?"
"The Chelyabinsk metallurgists have created the 'e-trade union' system. This is a system of electronic accounting of union members, such an information database, containing information on membership fees paid, material assistance, etc."
"Kyrgyz miners are designing a special mobile application. A union member installs it to a smartphone and gets the following services: to make an appointment with a union lawyer, pay membership fees, read union news, have access to database of documents and even get discounts when buying goods in partnership stores. Interestingly, not only a union member, but also anyone who pays the fees may enjoy the benefits of this application."
"What could the REP Trade Union boast against their background?"
"Our main features are legal and information services. It is thanks to the efficient work of our lawyers that we have a lot to tell about in our website, which every year becomes more and more popular and visited. Social networks are also a powerful tool for attracting new members into REP. We are present there, where our potential members are: in Odnoklassniki, Facebook, VKontakte and even in Telegram. We have about 6000 supporters on the Facebook, despite the fact that there are about 2000 REP members in total. This was a great surprise for our colleagues from more numerous trade unions, whose pages in social networks are much less developed."
"What is the difference of Belarusian independent trade unions from those in other countries?"
"Looking at how trade unions are developing in other countries, we can now state that repressions of Belarusian authorities against the REP Trade Union have affected us both negatively and positively. Yes, they squeezed us out of all enterprises. Yes, there are criminal cases against us. However, this forced us to be flexible; we promptly respond to the challenges facing the Belarusian society in the sphere of economic rights and freedoms. We are not restricted by any relations with employers and authorities, and we can most effectively react to every fact of violation of union members' rights, boldly defend people at courts, and openly talk about this in the media. People like it; and it attracts them to our union."