Free and democratic trade unions in Belarus have been under pressure for decades. However, a series of searches and arrests the last couple of days has become the most massive in the recent history of the labour movement in Belarus. International associations of trade unions have reacted strongly to the actions of the Lukashenko government and KGB. ITUC, ETUC and IndustriALL Global Union all demand that the arrested trade unionists must be released and that persecution must stop. Also ILO Director-General Guy Ryder calls for the release of Belarusian trade union leaders.
Tuesday the leadership of the Belarusian Congress of Trade Unions (BKDP) including the President Aliaksandr Yarashuk , Vice-President Siarhei Antusevich, President of Free Trade Union of Metal Workers (SPM) Aliaksandr Bukhvostau, President of Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB) Mikalaj Sharakh - were arrested. Other colleagues arrested include Yana Malash, Vitali Chychmarou, Hanna Dus, Vadzim Payvin, Mikhail Hromau, Ihar Komlik, Yury Beliakou, Vasil Berasneu, Hennadz Fiadynich, Dzmitry Barodka, Miraslau Sabchuk and Iryna Bud-Husaim. Aleh Padalinski, international secretary of BKDP, and Alena Yaskova, BKDP lawyer, are not answering their phones. Several others are still not reachable and their location is not known.
The trade union premises of the BKDP in Minsk were searched. Also the premises of the Free trade union of Belarus (SPB), Free trade union of Metal workers (SPM) and Union of Radio-Electronic Workers (REP) were searched. The security forces also searched the homes of trade union leaders and employees. The searches covered Personal Computers, personal documents, passports, bank cards including those of family members, SIM cards of foreign mobile operators and trade union paraphernalia.
Unions in Belarus have been under increasing attacks since August 2020, with searches of union offices and homes of union leaders and activists, administrative penalties, detentions and imprisonments of those who fight for workers’ rights. In March, the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association heavily criticised the government over its continued failure to implement key recommendations of a 2004 ILO Commission of Inquiry. By oppressing its democratic workers’ organisations, Belarus is violating its international obligations, including the ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, which has been ratified by Belarus.
On 7th April, the Committee for State Security of Belarus (KGB) listed the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union as an extremist organization and banned its activities. REP asked for a written explanation from the KGB as to why the union, which runs its activity in careful compliance with national and international legislation, was deemed an extremist formation. New searches and detentions came as a response.
Recently, there has been an increase in interrogations of union activists, the illegal installation of video and listening devices in union offices, and pressure placed on union members to resign from their union has become widespread.
ITUC call for their immediate release
This persecution and actions by the the Lukashenko regime is strongly condemned by the international labour movement. Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation ITUC said yesterday: “These are yet further examples of the sustained anti-union campaign by the Lukashenko regime and appear also to be in reaction to the independent trade unions’ bravery in criticising Lukashenko and his government for their active support of Russian President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. We call for their immediate release, the restoration of all the items seized to their rightful owners and an end to the ongoing intimidation and harassment of the BKDP, its leadership and its affiliates.”
ETUC calls on the European Union and ILO to intervene to secure their safety and release
General Secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation, Luca Visentini said “The ETUC seeks assurance that all trade unionist leaders and officials in Belarus are safe and released. These latest arrests, the most recent in a long history of attacks on trade unions in Belarus, seem to be punishment for criticising President Lukashenko for facilitating Putin’s military assault on Ukraine.
ETUC calls for an end to the war in Ukraine, and an end to dictatorship and attacks on trade unions in Belarus. ETUC stands for peace and democracy in Belarus as well as in Ukraine.”
IndustriALL Global Union urge Belarus to stop all repression of the union movement
Several of the Belarusian unions are affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union that in a statement yesterday said: "We demand the immediate release of all detained union leaders and activists, for all charges to be dropped, and to allow unions to perform their union activity in line with national and international legislation. It is imperative that the Belarusian Radio and Electronic Industry Workers' Union be removed from the list of extremist organizations and be allowed to continue carrying out its trade union activity.
We also urge Belarus to stop all repression of the union movement, and to start building a working relationship with trade unions based on social dialogue.
ILO Director-General Guy Ryder calls for the release of Belarusian trade union leaders
The Director-General of the UN organisation, International Labour Organisation ILO, Guy Ryder, calls on the responsible Belarusian authorities to immediately release the trade union leaders and any others still detained, and to take all necessary measures to ensure that they can carry out their trade union activities in a climate free from violence, intimidation, or threat of any kind.
Strong reactions from Norwegian unions
Also the Norwegian union Industri Energi that stands behind the "Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights" which was awarded to the Belarusian unions last year, and the Norwegian confederation LO condemn the arrests and persecution.