Union leaders tell about what should be done in Belarus to make labour decent
On October 7 – the International Day for Decent Work – Belarusian independent trade unions are unable, because of the ban imposed by the authorities, to hold their planned actions. The Praca-by.info has asked union leaders how they would like to mark this date, and what most acute problems Belarusian workers are facing.
Mikhail Kovalkov: “I’d focus attention on the problem of occupational traumas”
“The BKDP was not allowed to hold a rally – it looks like the authorities understand that we have no decent work here at all,” Mikhail Kovalkov, the Chairman of the Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB), told the Praca-by.info and continued:
“Today, we should go out with slogans for decent wages, guarantees of safe working conditions, cancellation of the fixed-term contract employment system – a real scourge of our working class. In 1861, the then Russian Tsar Alexander II abolished serfdom; and our local ‘Alexander I’ has reinstalled it. An employee cannot quit when he or she wants; and a worker can be fired, when he or she does not want it.”
“Besides, I’d focus attention on the problem of occupational traumas. In this aspect, Belarus is in the leading position in the world, even despite the fact that many work-related injuries are often hidden under the guise of household ones.
Andrei Strizhak: “Day for Decent Work can be marked on the Internet”
“The ban on the BKDP to hold a rally is an obvious violation of our rights to the freedom of peaceful assemblies. But I’m not too upset about the ban, because the authorities will fail to achieve their aims – we’ll just the same manage to convey the information to people,” Andrei Strizhak, the leader of the youth movement of the REP Trade Union, told the Praca-by.info. “The Day for Decent Work can be marked on the Internet; now, it’s quite easy to spread information through the World Web. First of all, we’ll remind the workers that there are international solidarity and support, and that they should themselves fight for their decent work.”
“The Belarusian independent trade unions are members of a large international unionist family. Our workers need to be reminded that this support can be quite weighty and substantial. There were situations, when our guys were dismissed from enterprises, after which their bosses received a barrage of protest letters in different languages. After that, the director no longer felt so free and at ease in such matters, because he knew that he was a focus of attention from around the world.”
“With regard to the problems faced by today’s workers, I’d highlight three of them: the fixed-term contract system; low wages; and the hidden nature of privatization of enterprises. There are no open tenders; and new investors cannot enter the market. Under the hidden nature of privatization, new owners are not too concerned about the rights of workers.”
Yuri Shvets: “Immorality in bosses’ behaviour rolls over and spills over the edge”
“We have no decent work here, because were have no decent wages and no labour safety. Employment relationships here have no morality,” Yuri Shvets, the Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BNP) and the chairman of the BNP primary organization of the workers of the OJSC “Mozyr Oil Refinery”, told the Praca-by.info. “Immorality rolls over and spills over the edge. Sometimes people don’t already care about wages. They simply don’t want to work in such conditions. I mean malpractice and abuses they see from their bosses.”
“People, in fact, have been turned into slaves. They are forced to do any work. A guy comes to work as a locksmith, but he is forced to cut the grass – and all for the same salary. However, workers’ viewpoints and their applications are not even considered. These disadvantages, in particular, are too many at our enterprise. I communicate with people from different enterprises, and I hear complaints about same things: rudeness, arrogance of bosses and humiliation of workers.”
Viktor Stukov: “The fundamental right of workers – to freely unite in trade union – is violated”
“October 7 is a holiday, but that does not mean that only on this day we should fight for decent work. On this day, trade unions should get together, sum up the results of their struggle, draft plans for the future and rejoice that today we are not alone – there are a lot of us,” Victor Stukov, the chairman of the primary organization of the Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB) of the workers of the OJSC “Polotsk Steklovolokno”, told the Praca-by.info. “Today, workers of Belarus are primarily concerned about hidden unemployment and low wages. All this is a result of the violation of the basic right of workers – to unite freely into a union. Should workers enjoy the right, they could achieve the guarantee of jobs, decent wages and good working conditions.
Alexander Bukhvostov: “Violations of workers’ rights will become stronger, if…”
“The situation has long been demanding to hold a large rally in the capital of the country against the anti-social policies, pursued by Lukashenko’s regime, and pickets in all the cities where we have our trade unions. All of Belarus, finally, should be concerned of the problem of decent work, which we do not have and do not expect,” – Alexander Bukhvostov, the Chairman of the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM), has emphasized.
“There is a lotto talk about; and there are things to protest against. In general, one of the major problems in the world is in non-standard forms of employment. In Belarus, it is present in the form of short-term labour contracts.”
“Besides, we need to ensure that the decisions of the authorities in the sphere of social protection were coordinated with trade unions. What we have now: sick leaves and payment of temporary disability is not coordinated event with the FPB!”
“Unfortunately, our people, rather than uniting and standing up for their rights, try to solve their problems individually: one is looking for extra work, others go to work in Russia. If people are not involved in their defence, ser up organizations e and join independent trade unions, violations of their rights will only scale up.