News / 27.08.19

Zinaida Mikhnyuk: slavery has not disappeared – now, employers can "transfer" workers to each other

The new Belarus' Labour Code has legalized slavery and became the worst in the world. Rights are vested on the employer only; it is allowed to transfer workers from hand to hand; and employers can fire workers without explanation.

"Drops of positive are hundredfold ousted with negative," Zinaida Mikhnyuk, the acting chair of the REP Trade Union, said in her interview with the "Radio Racja".

"How do you evaluate the new Labour Code?"

"In July, the Presidential Ordinance No. 29 was 20 years old. It introduced the fixed-term contract system of employment; and we hoped that this was a temporary legislative act that would be eventually cancelled. But after the House of Representatives adopted amendments to the Labour Code and the document was signed by the President, the initially temporary norms of the Ordinance became part of the national legislation. Our Labour Code is now significantly worse, not to say that it has become the worst in the world. The Code has legalized forced labour."

"It turns out that the amendments to the Labour Code have legalized fixed short-term contracts, doesn't it?"

"The Code states that if a person is hired, his/her is concluded for a year; and if he/she works without remarks, the employer may extend it for up to three years. But there is a reverse of the coin: if an employee finds a higher paying job, he/she can't quit. Everything is up to the employer; and a person can terminate the contract only when it ends. A month beforehand he/she writes an application asking to dismiss him/her after the contract expires. And only then he/she can take off his slavery and go to another 'master' to fall into the same bondage."

"It turns out that if an employee has found a better workplace, he has to commit some kind of misconduct in order to have his contract terminated".

"We know about such cases in the construction industry, when people don't hold on to a workplace, and indeed, when they find a better option, they have to quit in this way – through some disciplinary misbehaviour, a reprimand or absenteeism. It often happens that the employer fails to pay wages for several months. And what if a person has a family? He needs to somehow maintain his children, pay utility bills and so on. Then, people try to terminate contract in any way. Not everyone can go to work abroad. We can only be glad for those who bring higher wages from there. But most have to survive and barely make ends meet here, in this country. On TV, we hear that everything is fine and the average salary is already more than a thousand roubles, but in fact the purchasing power of the population is falling. They don't talk about it on TV."

"What else causes your concern in the new Labour Code, and, in your opinion, could become disastrous for workers?"

"If a person has his own opinion, and at the same time he is a professional and wants to defend his position and legal rights, he automatically becomes unwanted. And labour contracts, in their present form, are an easy way to get rid of an unwanted trade union activist, even if he is a good professional, but with an active civil position."

"How would you comment on the fact that now an employer has the right to transfer his employee for some period to another employer?"

"It's a shame; I can't call it anything else."

"But it should be done only with the employee's consent, shouldn't it?"

"We all know how this consent looks like here. The employee should have to agree for fear of being fired, although feeling that his human dignity is being trampled. It turns out that slavery had not been cancelled here in the 19th century. It has only changed its form. This lawlessness, unfortunately, will only continue."

"Are there any positive amendments to the Labour Code?"

"We've often heard that in developed countries, for example, maternity leave can be granted to a father. The new Labour Code provides for 14 days of leave for father at birth of a child. But this leave is unpaid. When a newborn appears in a family, even more money is needed, but it turns out that the father receives nothing for this two-week leave. In our country, almost every new law worsens workers' rights. Presidential Ordinances should be abolished so that a person could feel freely and go to work with joy."

"Earlier, our Labour Code was regarded to be the worst in Europe, now it's the worst in the world. Why does our country leadership love such 'draconian laws'?"

"It has a political background: the authorities need people, who are split and fear, who have no solidarity and the 'feeling of shoulder.' Employers are few, workers are an army. If workers could fully understand what a great power a trade union is. It is through the trade union that important work questions can be raised."

According to Zinaida Mikhnyuk, until the workers understand that their salvation is in solidarity, nothing good awaits them. But first they need to leave the state-owned trade union, which was created to support the already unlimited powers of the authorities. And if they are afraid yet, then at least they should choose their union leader themselves, and not dutifully accept the one suggested by their bosses. Fear and humility is a bad contribution to well-being, Ms Mikhnyuk is sure.

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