Belarusian authorities are hunting for strikers, activists and leaders of strike committees. The praca-by info has asked Gennady Fedynich, the leader of the REP Trade Union, to comment on the latest events.
“It seems that employers were instructed to find some 5-10 most active workers and fire them, regardless of their professional skills and popularity in their labour collectives. Also, fakes are widespread that if workers quit the pro-government trade unions-members of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (known as FPB), they are no longer covered by the collective agreement. It’s a lie. The Belarusian Labour Code (LC) provides that at the request of the employee himself the collective agreement should cover non-union members and members of other trade unions. The only thing that does not apply to them is the financial aid paid from the membership fees of members of official trade unions. With regard to labour relations, people should know that Article 14 of the LC clearly prohibits, I quote, ‘any discrimination, that is, restriction of labour rights or obtaining any advantages depending on gender, race, national and social origin, language, religious or political beliefs, participation or non-participation in trade unions or other public associations, property or official status, age, place of residence, physical or mental disabilities that do not interfere with the performance of the relevant job duties, other circumstances not related to business qualities and not caused by any specifics of the worker’s job function.’ Employers and workers must be clear about this. If someone has been discriminated against, then, of course, he/she should go to court. It is necessary to voice out these facts as much as possible so that employers do not forget that no one has yet cancelled the laws, and no matter how they try to name or justify such facts, there should be no place for them. Another thing that outrages people today are the cases, when directors are also trade union members, but at the same time dismiss their comrades-union members, workers. This is absurd! Today, it’s very important that everyone wakes up his/her civil position, the feeling of solidarity and mutual support.
Once again, I urge everyone: don’t be afraid, quit the pro-government trade unions, collective agreements will be in force. Stop feeding the army of bureaucrats from the official trade unions. Those 5-7% of wages and salaries withdrawn and transferred to the FPB, for which various ‘cultural and sports events’ are held. At the same time, they completely forget about workers’ rights, decent wages and labour safety, and about improving workers’ skills and status of workplaces.
For the units of new independent trade unions, which, I am sure, will now be broadly created, the issues of protecting the legal rights of trade union members at workplaces should be a priority. I should also like to remind that all trade unions have equal rights. Article 26 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus ‘On Trade Unions’ states that ‘any illegal restriction of trade unions’ rights and creating obstacles to them in exercising their powers shall be prohibited.’ The employer must know this. New trade union units will be created, and the employer will be obliged to provide them with a legal address at the enterprise in order for them to carry out their work in accordance with the legislation, on equal terms with those that existed there before, if they still exist.
Lukashenko said that he is ready to meet delegates of labour collectives. But they should be not from the pro-governmental bureaucratic ‘trade union committees’. These are the people whom working people trust, and whom they have elected into strike committees today, who have been nominated as their leaders. They are plenipotentiary representatives of labour collectives. But I don’t know whether they will want to talk with Lukashenko now. If the authorities want to come to terms with workers, they should speak to them as equals. In fact, not workers should depend on authorities, but the latter’s existence is ensured by the labour of millions of Belarusians.”
“Is the creation of a strike committee at an enterprise legal? Facts of persecution are known only for the very fact of creating a strike committee.”
“The demands put forward today by workers and strike committees are of political nature. The Labour Code (LC) prescribes the procedure for holding strikes when strikers put forward economic demands, but it fails to advice what to do if demands are political in nature. In Belarus, political demands are not prohibited. There is also nowhere a ban on creating strike committees. Naturally, when putting forward political demands, the scheme that is spelled out in the LC is incapable. Nevertheless, the working people have the right to strike and, accordingly, to create strike committees. It is enshrined in Article 41 of the Constitution (Article 41. Citizens of the Republic of Belarus are guaranteed the right to work as the most worthy way of a person’s self-affirmation, that is, the right to choose a profession, occupation and work in accordance with one’s vocation, abilities, education, professional training, and taking into account social needs, as well as to healthy and safe working conditions. The state creates conditions for full employment of the population. In the event that a person is unemployed for reasons beyond his/her control, he/she is guaranteed training in new specialties and advanced training, taking into account social needs, as well as unemployment benefits in accordance with the law. Citizens shall have the right to defend their economic and social interests, including the right to form trade unions, run collective bargaining (agreements) and the right to strike. Forced labour is prohibited, except for the works or services defined by a court order or in accordance with the state of emergency and martial law; – note of the REP News).
The creation of strike committees is also advisable because, according to the Law ‘On Trade Unions’, they have no right to put forward political demands; it’s easy to liquidate a union on this basis. There is no such prohibition for strike committees. They have greater freedom of action.
It is important that worthy, active and trustworthy people are nominated for the strike committees. The committees created today will be necessary in the future. Should the state fail to launch reforms in the near future, the socioeconomic situation will inevitably worsen. Then, even those who today dare not to support political demands will willingly add them to economic ones. Indeed, in fact, one cannot exist without the other.”
“Let’s imagine the workers who quit the pro-government trade unions. They remain unprotected, since creating a new union is a rather complicated procedure. What should they do next at this stage?”
“The first thing I highly recommend is to choose one of the existing independent unions. To be protected workers should join independent trade unions. Here is their list: the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (known as BNP), the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM), the Free Belarusian Trade Union (SPB), and the Belarusian Trade Union of Radio-Electronic Industry Workers (REP). First, study attentively the charters of these trade unions, which are available in their websites. Your profession needs to be in line with the union bylaws; otherwise it could cause problems. For example, authorities will find fault with the fact that teachers aren’t entitled to join the metalworkers’ union. Our REP Trade Union is unique. Our charter allows admitting workers from all economy branches, the unemployed, pensioners and students. And we are using it to protect people and create for them, if necessary, a chance for organizing new units at their enterprises and organizations. I think that one of the important victories of the current situation will be the destruction of the monopoly embezzled by the pro-governmental Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB), headed by Lukashenko’s confidant, Mikhail Orda.
I emphasize once again: entry and exit from any trade union is free. I know that many had to write an application to join the official trade union while being hired. The time for such voluntary coercive measures has ended. Show your civil position and stop supporting with your money those who, in fact, have betrayed you. Leave the ‘commanders’ without their army!”
“Where should those who want to join the REP Trade Union turn?”
“They should contact our leaders in all the regional centres, and, besides, in the cities of Bobruisk, Orsha, Slonim and others. The website of the REP Trade Union and the bulletin ‘Rabochaya Salidarnasts’ have all the phone numbers and addresses. Do not hesitate to ask and come. We don’t force anyone to do anything. I am convinced that workers should choose or create their own trade unions, without an employer, and we help them to self-organize. The doors of REP are always open for them.”