The Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (known as the FPB) has awarded President Alexander Lukashenko the jubilee medal "115 Years of Trade Union Movement in Belarus". This became known on May 2, 2019, during Mr Lukashenko's meeting with Mikhail Orda, the FPB Chairman, when the latter explained: "We are awarding this medal to you, because we are building a state of welfare; and social issues are given priority attention."
"Thank you for the award; for recalling that I once was a trade union leader and for many years headed a trade union organization," Lukashenko thanked the head of the FPB.
Gennady Fedynich, the leader of the REP Trade Union, has commented on this award and on the topics discussed at Orda's meeting with Lukashenko:
"I haven't read the statute of this medal, but I think that it should be granted to people, who not only worked in trade unions, but had concrete achievements – real improvement of the life of Belarusian workers. And what are the results achieved in our 'social issues'? We should first ask our workers, employees, pensioners and disabled persons about it."
"Independent trade unions have never fit into the state structure built by Lukashenko"
At his meeting with Orda, Lukashenko touched on the topic of upcoming elections, and emphasized that precinct election commissions are composed mostly of local teachers and workers of the public health system; and, as a rule, all of them are FPB members. Therefore, Lukashenko relies of their support at the local level. In his opinion, trade unions may form the cadre reserve for the Parliament.
"Of course, I'm waiting for unionists at polling stations, at elections to the Parliament – to the House of Representatives. These are experienced people, representing their labour collectives. They should be nominated and promoted as good specialists, capable of working in the Parliament," Lukashenko said.
"What does it mean – taking part in district (precinct) election commissions?" Mr Fedynich has asked. "It means that FPB activists are permanently taking part in election frauds and falsifications at various levels. Members of these commissions, doctors and teachers, are all FPB members. Like other state servants, they are completely dependent on their employers and bosses and have to do what they are ordered to. And how should we understand the idea to nominate 'best workers for working in Parliament'? Should we send there our best locksmiths, doctors, teachers, engineers or managers? I'm sure that MPs should be well versed in laws, economy and politics, people, who are ready to stand for the interests of their voters in a principled and professional manner, regardless of which labour collective or political party has nominated them; however, we, as a rule, see the MPs selected by the degree of their loyalty. What they get downloaded from the Administration, they formerly consider in their commissions, correct some commas, and adopt unanimously. If we want to live like human beings, we must put an end to it."
"If the state tries to control market relations, then, it is unable to provide people with decent living standards"
At his meeting with Orda, Lukashenko drew attention to the fact that high prices remain problem No. 1 for the population.
"You claim that you defend, first of all, workers' interests, those of our people. A person's interest in prices is quite a direct one. Our people are not so rich to buy goods at frenzied prices, especially if those goods are produced locally: foodstuffs, clothes, etc.," said Lukashenko.
"Yes, prices for some foodstuffs have gone up without due reason: for millet, chicken, white cabbage, etc." Mikhail Orda agreed.
Since 2017, the FPB has been monitoring prices; the results thereof are sent to the Ministry of Antimonopoly Regulation and Trade.
"As to pricing, it's necessary to do so that prices do not grow unreasonably. The President has ordered to convene a meeting in the near future in order to develop clear approaches. No one has the right to drag money from people's purses," said Mikhail Orda.
"And I'd say that the main point is not to control prices; much more important is control over the level of wages and the welfare of the working people. Prices should be controlled, first of all, by the market itself. If authorities try to control market relations, this means that they are unable to provide people with decent living standards," said Fedynich. "If we talk about improving people's well-being, this means a substantial increase in pensions, salaries and allowances. Today, the minimum consumer budget for the capable population is BYN 467.24 a month; and a working person should earn no less. Is the FPB ready to deal with this? Thus, what is better: to 'monitor' the cost of white cabbage and report it to the Antimonopoly Committee, or, as trade unions should do, to fight for the proper level of wages and pensions of working people?"
"Give me a list of those against; and we'll deal with them"
Lukashenko asked the FPB chairman about the creation of new trade union groups and organizations at Belarusian enterprises, and whether company bosses are impeding the process. He asked to inform him about such cases.
Gennady Fedynich has clarified:
"The FPB has always complained that it's difficult for them to form new structures in the private sector, because employers do not want them; but there's an order to set up trade unions everywhere. I think this means: 'give me a list of those who are against; and we'll deal with them.' And it's clear that they were talking only about the FPB, because if, for example, Alexander Yaroshuk, the Chairman of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (known as the BKDP), the second Belarusian trade union centre, were present at the meeting with Lukashenko, we could talk about trade unions in general. However, the independent trade unions, not even mentioned at the meeting, have never fit into the state built by Lukashenko. There is no place for independent unions in it. And the closer the elections, the pressure on independent trade unions will intensify."
"I would like to return," Gennady Fedynich continued, "to what was declared at the meeting: 'FPB is a large-scale, cohesive and nicely organized association,' and 'its main task is to protect the interests of working people.' What do the nice organization and cohesion of the FPB look like? Has it achieved the abolition of the decrees on fixed short-term contracts? Is it seeking the abolition of the anti-people 'parasite' ordinances? Maybe the FPB has cohesive stood up against the increase of the retirement age?"
"Most people remain FPB members only because of fear of losing their jobs"
"What is their large-scale nature in? Is it in the fact that membership fees are deducted automatically from unionists' salaries, and newcomers are forced to join the FPB at hiring – this is a precondition of employment? Is it in the fact that workers are driven on their day off to subbotniks, or forced to donate their one-day earning for unknown purposes? Or is it in the fact that they are forced to come to polling stations? Let's not bluff before union members and our own people. Have you asked them about what they want from trade unions? People today are extremely dissatisfied with the work of the FPB, because they do not see concrete results in defending their interests. And the 'social partnership' we see today in Belarus only legitimizes people's impoverishment. After all, a real social partnership assumes a constructive and tough dialogue of the government, employers and trade unions. And if they disagree with the government's position, trade unions are obliged to take collective protests. But we see only collective actions of 'consent' on May 1.
"The majority of workers and employees remain FPB members only for fear of losing their jobs and workplaces. If today the FPB could say: 'Those, who want, stay with the FPB; those who want to join other trade unions, do so; and those, who generally hate to be unionists – you are free to quit,' then we would see what would happen to this FPB."
In conclusion, the REP leader returned to the 115th anniversary of Belarusian trade unions:
"After Leonid Kozik came to power in the FPB instead of Vladimir Goncharik, the work of the REP and ASM Trade Unions, which has been there and had done a lot to defend labour people, has completely disappeared from the FPB's history. The history today is adapted to the tastes of those who are in power, but this should not be the case. The date of 115 years is not a jubilee, but it is a convenient chance to overstate the current role of the FPB in defending the interests of working people; the role that is beyond its capacity."
"Probably, it makes sense to write a real history of trade unions in Belarus, so that it is specific and truthful – showing what we managed to achieve and where we failed; not the boasting and hypocrisy that we see," Mr Fedynich has summed up.