The repression against the free trade unions in Belarus has escalated seriously. Today, 19th of April the leadership of the confederation Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Union (BKDP) has been arrested: At least 13 are in detention, including President Aliaksandr Yarashuk and Vice-President Siarhei Antusevich of BKDP, as well as the chairperson of the Belarusian Free Trade Union (SPB), Mikalaj Sharakh. This comes after the BKDP has expressed strong opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and one of its unions, the Belarusian Trade Union of Radioelectronic Industry Workers (REP) earlier this month was deemed by the regime as an "extremist" organisation. The charges are still not known.
A search in the office of BKDP in Minsk took place today by KGB. Searches at the homes of Yarashuk and Antusevich has been held. PCs, flash cards, personal documents, passports, bank cards belonging to them and their family members, SIM cards of foreign mobile operators, union flags, everything with white-red-white ribbons, cups, flags, symbols, leaflets, and even books. The mobile phones of all BKDP office employees: lawyer, international secretary and media team officer are off. One of the office employees is taken to interrogation after the search in her apartment.
The chairperson of the Belarusian Free Trade Union (SPB), Mikalaj Sharakh, was also arrested as he was riding his bike to take part in a court hearing in Polotsk, and his house and apartment was searched.
The independent trade unions received the Arthur Svensson Prize last year
The «Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights» was last year awarded to the independent trade union movement in Belarus, represented by the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) and its affiliates. They received the award for their fearless struggle for democracy and fundamental trade union rights in Europe's last dictatorship.
Belarus is considered one of the worst countries in the world for violating workers' rights. Human rights organizations have for many years expressed deep concern about the human rights violations in the country; «disappearances», police violence and lack of freedom of expression and association. Despite the Lukashenko regime's attempts to take control of the independent unions and complicate recruitment, organizing and regular trade union activity, they have never given up and have continued to work for its members.
In connection with the presidential election in the autumn of 2020, where the result was obviously falsified, the situation in the country deteriorated further. All forms of opposition have been cracked down on through heavy police brutality, imprisonment and harassment. The independent trade union movement became central early in the fight against the falsification of the election result and the fight for democracy. There was a wave of strikes, actions and demonstrations demanding the cancellation of the election results and the release of all political prisoners.
The strikes and demonstrations then were met with terror, mass arrests and torture. A number of trade union representatives and activists were fired from their jobs, and many have been imprisoned or forced to flee the country. Union offices have been raided and closed.
Last August the authorities ordered the dissolution of the journalists’ union BAJ and arrested more than 20 democracy supporters. In September, activists from the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BITU) and members of the ITUC-affiliated Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) were arrested, detained and subjected to searches by the state security services.
ILO has called on the government to restore the rights of workers
The ILO Committee of Experts has called on the government of Belarus to restore the rights and freedoms of workers without delay (Here is the full ILO report on Belarus (page 104-115)). It urges the government to take measures for the release of all trade unionists who remain in detention and for dropping of all charges related to participation in peaceful protest action in 2020; refrain from arrest, detention and harassment, including prosecution, of trade union leaders and members engaged in legitimate trade union activities.
The Committee has urged the Government to ensure that there are no obstacles to the registration of trade unions, both in law and in practice; put an end to interference in the formation of trade unions, including in private companies.