The Lukashenko regime has continued the persecution of trade unionists, imprisoning several union leaders and staff in recent months and liquidating trade unions. Last week, the tripartite ILO Governing Body concluded that any ILO engagement with Belarus will be frozen, and submitted a resolution to this year’s International Labour Conference. International pressure will continue and build until the Lukashenko government respects workers’ fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. In turn, in the summer of 2023, the International Labour Conference will have to either approve or disapprove this resolution of the Governing Body of the ILO. This, in turn, allows ILO members to take a wide range of measures to compel the Lukashenko regime to implement the recommendations, including by means of the severance of diplomatic and economic relations.
On 24 March, the Belarus Supreme Court rejected an appeal against the prison sentences imposed on officials and staff of the independent trade union centre BKDP, Aliaksandr Yarashuk, Siarhei Antusevich and Iryna But-Husaim. Yarashuk is a member of the ILO Governing Body. The Supreme Court decision shows that the government is continuing to ignore the ILO and flout international law.
The ILO resolution calls on governments, as well as social partners, to review any relations they have with Belarus and respect the principle of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to Belarus given the risks there to any trade unionist or human rights defender. It further calls on the Lukashenko government to accept an urgent tripartite ILO mission to examine the situation, including a visit to the independent trade union leaders and activists in prison or detention.
Besides the resolution, ILO also formally alert other international organisations of Belarus’ failure to comply with the 2004 Inquiry and requesting they review any cooperation with Belarus and “cease as soon as possible any activity that could have the effect of directly or indirectly justifying the absence of actions to redress the situation concerning the non-respect of trade union rights in the country.”
Russia and China supported Belarus government - but a clear majority supported the resolution
Iryna Kastsevich, Minister of Labour and Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus, made a report before the members of the Governing Body. In her speech, she did not recognize the problems with workers’ rights in Belarus. Representatives of Russia and China supported the Belarusian regime, noting that the government is in a dialogue with the ILO structures, and the platform of the international organization should focus on economic and social issues, rather than be politicized.
Different point of view on the situation in Belarus was expressed by representatives of workers, employers and governments of most countries. The representative of Great Britain pointed out in her report that the situation with the demand to fulfill ILO Conventions had not only not improved, but even deteriorated compared to what had been before.
Mass arrests of trade union leaders, closure of trade unions and trade union democracy have all made it impossible to defend the interests of workers in Belarus. According to the speakers, the Government-supported Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB) is not an organization that can be taken seriously as an organization on the side of workers. It was also said that it should not be put as an example of freedom of association in the country.
Representatives of the European Union, the U.S., Nordic states and other countries gave names of imprisoned trade union leaders convicted for their activities to Labour Minister Iryna Kastsevich: Andrei Khanevich, Aliaksandr Yarashuk, Aliaksandr Mishuk, Hennadz Fiadynich, Vasil Berasneu, Iryna But-Husaim and other political prisoners. Which essentially disarmed the speakers on the side of the Belarusian regime.
Thirty-nine Governing Body members voted for the resolution. Three members voted against it, and ten members abstained. According to the results of the voting of the Governing Body members, the resolution on Belarus was adopted. The measures to be applied to Belarus will be published a little later.
This decision was preceded by the appeal of the ILO to the Government of Belarus back in November 2022. Among them: to allow ILO representatives to examine the conditions of detention of trade union leaders, to release them, and to respect the freedom of association.
Since the regime ignored all the demands of the international structure, at the end of November 2022, the Governing Body of the International Labour Organization ruled out to start enforcing the international obligations in the sphere of labour rights on the Belarusian authorities. This, in turn, allows ILO members to take a wide range of measures to compel the Lukashenko regime to implement the recommendations, including by means of the severance of diplomatic and economic relations.