As part of their relentless crackdown on the protest movement in Belarus, the authorities are ruthlessly targeting independent labour unions and trampling on workers’ rights, according to Amnesty International. Retaliation against independent trade unions and their affiliates is highlighted in a recent briefing by the group. These include illegal dismissals, prosecutions, and criminal prosecution of labour rights activists, all of which are in violation of the government’s international treaty commitments to uphold freedom of association and workers’ rights to organise and enter trade unions.
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Belarus has maintained distinct Soviet characteristics. This involves the state’s absolute economic dominance, which continues to be the country’s largest employer and aims to exert strong control over all labour unions. According to Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Researcher, “state-run trade unions, which essentially lack any independence, behave more like a branch of government than the protector of workers.”
The authorities have used every tactic at their disposal to discourage workers from joining the protest movement and forming their own trade unions. Threats, fines, dismissals, and, eventually, criminal prosecution of trade union activists have all been used in this manner.
After the plant’s pro-government trade union withdrawn its initial support for a strike on August 17 calling for President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s resignation, Vadzim Laptsik formed the founding committee of a branch of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union at the Belarusian Metallurgical Factory in Zhlobin.
On November 2, the Vadzim Laptsik-led independent trade union came to an end when four of the eleven founding members were arrested and charged criminally. Vadzim Laptsik, a senior specialist at the plant, was fired on January 21st and threatened with criminal charges, forcing him to flee Belarus.
Heather McGill said, “We call for international solidarity with Belarusian trade union activists who are paying a high price for defending workers’ rights in their country.”
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