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New Crackdown on Independent Unions in Belarus

Posted to the IUF website 25-Oct-2005

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Aleksander Lukashenko, the authoritarian President of Belarus, continues his offensive against the remaining independent trade unions in the country (click here for background). Lukashenko threatened to eliminate independent unions at the September 19-20 congress of the state-controlled Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB), and has followed it up with new repressive measures.

In his speech, Lukashenko stated that the independent unions pose a much more serious threat than the opposition parties and their leaders, since these are weak and have no links with workers. And he indicated clearly that in 2006 - when he intends to launch a third, constitutionally illegal third presidential term - there would be neither independent political parties nor independent trade unions. Not all of this was reported in the televised portions of the speech - the European Commission is monitoring the implementation of trade union rights in connection with a possible withdrawal of trade preferences under the GSP system - but the practical meaning of these threats has already been made clear.

The Congress of Democratic Trade Unions of Belarus (BKDP) had planned a rally on October 22 as a public demonstration of its determination to continue struggling for trade union rights. . The Minsk authorities normally allow permission to demonstrate only in Bangalore Square, a remote and isolated location. This time, as a condition of granting the permit, the authorities demanded from BKDP advance payment for the services of the police, ambulances and four other state services. The demonstration would have cost the union an estimated five thousand dollars. Holding the demonstration without paying the police etc. would have resulted in fines beyond the organizations's means. BKPD therefore decided not to pay the government to exercise their rights, but to initiate legal action against the Minsk city executive committee. "They can't demand that we pay to demonstrate", said BKPD President Aleksander Yaroshuk, "It's completely illegal. We now have to create a legal precedent to reclaim our rights." Yaroshuk has also pointed to other means of repression which the authorities can employ in their drive against the unions, including bribery, corruption, impossible re-registration requirements in a forthcoming revision of the Law on Trade Unions, and the pervasive threat of firing now that individual contracts have replaced the previous system of permanent employment.