News / 03.07.19

Slavery – for workers; freedom of action – for employers

Amendments to the Labour Code have made all the workers of Belarus hostages to forced labour.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has again included Belarus into the short list of the countries where forced labour exists. On June 15, 2019, the ILO's Committee on the Application of Norms and Standards for the third time listened to the Belarusian government on the enforcement of ILO Convention 29 on the Prevention of Forced Labour.

And already on June 26, the MPs of the House of Representatives (the Lower Chamber of the Belarusian Parliament) transferred into the Labour Code the provisions of Presidential Ordinance No. 29 of July 26, 1999, "On Additional Measures to Improve Labour Relations, Strengthen Labour and Performance Discipline", which fixed the system of universal transition to fixed-term labour contracts; and Presidential Ordinance No. 5 of December 15, 2014, "On Strengthening Discipline of Organizations' Managers and Employees", which toughened the labour discipline.

"Earlier, these ordinances were temporary in nature, but now they have received the status of the law. Now, the employer has the freedom to punish, while his workers are in fact in slavery," Gennady Fedynich, the leader of the REP Trade Union, has noted.

"Belarusian bureaucrats have learned to negotiate with European ones. Why do I make such a conclusion? The ILO includes representatives of the government, employers and trade unions, the latter are called the 'the workers' group'. And this 'workers' group' had failed to initiate the consideration by the Government of Belarus of ILO Convention No. 29 on forced labour. Any question under consideration requires detailed preparation, a justification, against which it's difficult for the authorities to object. Given the fact that the representative of the Government of Belarus thanked for the discussion about forced labour, we can suggest that everything that happened was a well-staged performance, after which the go-ahead signal was given to introduce the above temporary ordinances into the Labour Code, and at the same time to avoid any sanctions from international structures, including the ILO. Otherwise, how to explain such a coincidence: the 'Belarusian issue' was considered at ILO conference on June 15, and the House of Representatives amended the Labour Code already on June 26?"

"Belarus' Govt received ILO's blessing to legalize Ordinance No. 29"

"We have quite a lot of claims to the ILO. In my opinion, every other year, the organization loses its real influence on governments and employers of the countries that fail to comply with ILO Conventions. It will be no longer possible to hide behind 'democratic verbiage': both independent trade unions and citizens of Belarus have been fighting against the fixed short-term employment system for more than 20 years (Ordinance No. 29), and as a result the government received the ILO's blessing. All the labour people of the Republic of Belarus have became hostages. And today, unfortunately, everything will depend on the solidarity of the working class, with which there are big problems in Belarus. In short, the rescue of the drowning is the work of the drowning themselves."

"In my opinion, the 'workers' group' should have opposed the inclusion of this issue into the agenda of the ILO conference due to its insufficient preparation. And the group should have been alerted by the fact that this issue was put on the agenda by foreign employers' associations."

"The fact that a person, while getting a job in Belarus cannot leave it until the expiry of his/her labour contract, for some reason, was not regarded as forced labour"

"It can be stated that today the international structures created a long time ago (the ILO, the UN, and the relatively young European Union), unfortunately, are losing their influence on the observance of fundamental rights and freedoms in various countries, including the developing ones. They are either unwilling or unable to take concrete decisions and respond for the enforcement thereof. As a result, the ILO failed with neither a special paragraph regarding the Belarus' Govt, nor any specific recommendations on the abolition of forced labour. They just scoffed amicably, but the fact that a working person in Belarus, once finding a better job, cannot quit, because he/she in under a labour, was not regarded by them, in all likelihood, to be forced labour."

"In this situation, the labour people of Belarus should say their weighty word," Gennady Fedynich has emphasizes.

"Do you agree to go on working for food from ring to ring, as employer orders?"

"If workers fail to react, slavery in Belarus will continue thriving and strengthening. It will be extremely difficult to get out of this state of affairs, even with a change of government. The employer will be willing to have these short leashes and ignore the worker's rights."

"I believe that all the MPs, who voted for amending the Labour Code, have blacklisted themselves. They've betrayed their voters, the vast majority of whom work under fixed short-term contracts."

"Every day, people experience stress because of contract expiry, unaware whether it will extended and under what conditions"

"Earlier we could appeal to the fact that Ordinances Nos. 29 and 5 are temporary and contradict the Labour Code. The ILO and other international organizations listened to these arguments. But since now, we have legalized slavery for our workers."

"We have long sought to include open-ended (endless) contracts for most workers into the Labour Code. We offered to conclude short-term contracts only with a certain group of citizens – seasonal workers, chief accountants, heads of enterprises, etc. People are experiencing daily stress because of the expiration of their contracts, not knowing whether they will be renewed and under what conditions. These amendments of the Labour Code also affect local officials, administration workers, and civil servants. They will also be forced to think about the conditions under which they should work in Belarus, and whether it's worth working here at all," Mr Fedynich has concluded.

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