In Belarus, they want to legalize serfdom.The new Labour Code, amendments to which were adopted by both Houses of the Parliament, has been signed by president Lukashenko. What will change in labour relationships after the Code's entry into force? The Charter97.org website asked Gennady Fedynich, the leader of the REP Trade Union, to comment on the above amendments.
"Lukashenko has signed a new Labour Code, which is already called the worst in the world. Do you agree with this definition?"
"If we talk about the contractual system – yes, it's really the worst in this aspect."
"Let's go through the changes. They include a possibility for an employer to "transfer" a worker to another employer. What will this practice lead to?"
"We can state that they want to legalize serfdom. Authorities are hiding behind the idea that if an employer has no job for you, he can redirect you to another employer for up to six months. But the provision fails to specify the working conditions and the level of wages. Ideally, it should be like that: you come to an employer, sign a contract, and if you fulfil it, but the employer has no job for you, he pays you two average wages and offers to start looking for another job. The amendments say nothing about this. It turns out that one owner gives his slave to another owner. After all, the worker faces the choice: either quit or go to a new employer. But why should the worker, for example, travel 10-20 kilometres to a new job? The Labour Code should clearly state: no work – pay two average wages and dismiss the worker in connection with the breach of contract by the employer. However, such rule simply doesn't exist in the Code."
"Can we say that the new Labour Code is freezing the contractual system already existing in Belarus?"
"Absolutely; authorities are trying to hide behind the fact that now you can enter into contracts for five years. But it's all from the devil. Look at the statistics: how many people work under fixed short-term contracts! It should be like that: a person has worked for a year without remarks and reprimands – he/she should be transferred to an indefinite employment contract. But what have we got instead? Inequality! An employer may dismiss a worker by notifying him/her 30 days in advance. But the law doesn't in the opposite direction! If you have found a better job, you have practically no chance! Everything is decided by the employer, whose rights are completely unequal to those of the worker. If a person works under an indefinite labour contract, he/she could come and tell the employer, a month in advance, that he/she is leaving."
"Thus, Belarusians are deprived of their right to quit on their will, aren't they?"
"Yes, they are! In the best case, you can agree and quit on parties' mutual consent; otherwise, workers have to go to court. If the court obliges the employer to dismiss the worker, the latter is dismissed 'in connection with the breach of the contract by the employer', and this entry is made in the work record book. A new employer sees that the worker is quite legally literate, can defend his/her rights, and refrains from hiring him/her."
"Authorities have legalized 'part-time work while on vacation'; it turns out that they officially admit that it's impossible to live on one job, don't they?"
"Earlier, people also used to work on vacations. But here, officials make it a norm confirming that the best vacation for Belarusians is a change of workplace. But the question is, when should people have their rest? Belarusians have to look for part-time job not from a good life, but from hopelessness. Someone has taken loans; someone has borrowed money; and someone just doesn't have enough money to survive. Why can't Belarusians earn as much as they need for a normal life at the main workplace? A worker should be able to save money, take his/her family and have a good time during vacations: in Belarus, in Poland, in Egypt, in Turkey – anywhere. Here, nobody thinks about people. So let's be honest and instead of 'Belarus is a country for life' write 'Belarus is a country for low-paid work'. It'll be, at least, honest."
"Instead, we have a new 'super task' – a 'tolerable salary'. You see how it turns out: at first, they promised USD 500 per month, then – BYN 1000, and the other day, Lukashenko spoke already about 'tolerable salary', because they're unable to ensure a decent one. Guys, so what have you been doing for 25 years?!"
"When reading the amendments to the Labour Code, you all the time see the word "employer". Is there place in it for a working man?"
"The amendments have just legitimized the 'stranglehold' on the worker's neck. While earlier we could refer to the fact that presidential ordinances and decrees are temporary, today they have become a law."
"What will the outcome be? Young and talented people will leave the country. I see that it's all the same for the authorities how many of their compatriots will leave. The gap between the people and those in power is becoming deeper and broader…"
"Why is the new Labour Code so praised by official trade unions?"
"The way these people were 'elected' there, so they are playing their roles in these structures. Now, on TV there's so much babble; they assure that 'they had worked so hard on the new Labour Code, and thought about ordinary workers.' In particular they are proud of providing young dads with 14 days of vacation. But are you going to pay for this vacation? And how are you going to improve the demography? For women, who raise children under 3 years of age, they've lifted the ban on business trips. However, if you don't want to go, you violate the terms of you contract and get a reprimand. Two reprimands – and you are fired!"
"Why do I say all this? Amendments to the Labour Code should be discussed and adopted no by the officials from the Ministry of Labour, not by pro-government trade unions, but by authorized representatives of the working people. Consideration of the bills should have a public outcry, and proposals of ordinary Belarusians should be taken into account. Unfortunately, no one is interested in the opinion of independent trade unions, public organizations and NGOs, as well as in the opinion of working people."
"Do you think that placing Belarus on the 'black list' of the International Trade Union Confederation as the best assessment of the situation with workers' rights in Belarus?
"Sure, I do. It's high time to move on from declarations to action. In my opinion, there's some fault of the West in what is happening here. Indeed, in the European Union itself, the citizens' rights and freedoms are undisputable values, but once you cross the Belarus' border, you may forget about them. There are plenty of projects and programmes for the Belarusian economy, but we see no preconditions in the sphere of human rights put forward by the West the Belarusian authorities. Funds should be granted only under the guarantee of respect for human rights."
"It turns out that the hope is only on us, isn't it?"
"Exactly; it's high time to open eyes and understand that the authorities have done everything to prevent people in this country from living well. They've built pseudo-socialism in its worst version. But the country's leadership would never admit that their 'economic model' has come not just into a deadlock, but brought Belarusians to the very bottom and into miserable existence. People, who will come to power in the new and free Belarus, will have to undertake urgent, painful and unpopular reforms, but without them Belarusians will go on surviving, not living. Only real changes can save our country."