After the news about sending students of the Belarusian State University of Transports (BelSUT) in Gomel to the "Vostok" Agrarian Combine for gathering crop of carrots, Leonid Sudalenko, the legal inspector of the REP Trade Union, sent a request to Yuri Bulynko, the Gomel City Prosecutor, about the legality of interrupting the training process and sending students to agrarian works during the school year.
The students' employment in gathering carrots became know because of a scandal: the agrarian bosses promised to pay students for their work in kind – with the vegetables they gathered, but when they tried to take carrots from the field, the securities of the agricultural company called police.
Gomel University students were promised to be paid with carrots for their work at a farm
The union lawyer got interested in the fact as an example of forced labour. He drew the prosecutor's attention to the provisions of the Conventions of the International Labour Organization, in which any forms of forced labour are strictly prohibited. Forced labour is also prohibited by Article 41 of the Constitution of Belarus.
"The Labour Code of Belarus treats forced labour as any work under the threat of punishment. It's clear that, by virtue of their direct dependence on the dean's office, students will be silent in this situation. For this reason, we ask the prosecutor's office to conduct a check and give, first of all, a legal assessment of the fact that students were involved in agricultural work during their class hours," Mr Sudalenko has explained.
Besides, the request raises the issues of the age of the students involved, the legality of concluding labour contracts with them for the provision of harvesting services, and whether the proper labour safety briefing was conducted with them.
Leonid Sudalenko recalls the tragedy of Molodechno in 2015, when a schoolgirl died during potato harvesting.
"After that tragedy, they stopped involving schoolchildren, pupils and students in harvesting. As we see, officials from education turned out to have short memory," the union lawyer has concluded.