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Anniversary of the liquidation of trade unions in Belarus

Exactly one year ago the Supreme Court terminated the activity of the Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB), the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM), the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of Miners, Chemists, Oil Refiners, Power Engineers, Transport Workers, Builders and other workers (BNP), the Belarusian Trade Union of Radio-Electronic Industry Workers (REP), as well as the Trade Union Association "Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions" (BKDP).

Logos of liquidated trade unions
Logos of liquidated trade unions

The suit to the Supreme Court was filed by Prosecutor General Andrei Shved. According to the prosecutor's office, "during the judicial review it was established that instead of protecting labour and socio-economic rights of trade union members, preventing illegal strikes, downtime, escalation in society, the leaders and a number of members of the mentioned trade unions took an active part in destructive activities, mass events, violating public order, distributed information products of extremist content. Criminal proceedings have been instituted in all cases of their unlawful activities and administrative measures have been taken.

The materials of the case against the independent trade unions included KGB data, which listed all cases of detention or arrest of trade union activists. Their appearances at protests on their own behalf or their political views. It should be reminded that the BKDP, as well as other trade unions affiliated to it, did not participate in the elections and did not campaign for presidential candidates.

Police in front of the BNP office in Navapolatsk
Police in front of the BNP office in Navapolatsk

However, following an open anti-war statement after the start of Russia's full-scale military invasion of Ukraine, at least 19 representatives of the independent trade union movement were detained between 19 and 21 April. These are the leadership and staff of the office of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP), as well as leaders and activists of the BKDP member trade unions SPM (Free Trade Union of Metalworkers), SPB (Free Trade Union of Belarus), REP (Belarusian Trade Union of Workers of Radio-Electronic Industry).

Also, the primary organisations of the Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BNP) were terminated at Mazyr Oil Refinery, Navapolatsk Naftan and Grodna Azot by decision of the local authorities, prosecutor's office and the judiciary.In May 2022, there were searches and arrests in the central office of the BNP, as well as in its largest primary organisation at Belaruskali.

On the evening of 11 July – a month after the Prosecutor General's Office sent a petition to the Supreme Court to stop the activities of independent trade unions – the TV channel Belarus 1 broadcast a propaganda film discrediting the activities of independent trade unions. They were shown as “unscrupulous organisations that used ordinary workers for their own selfish purposes”.

Prosecutor General Andrei Shved
Prosecutor General Andrei Shved

On 18 July the Supreme Court held a hearing on the liquidation of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions. The hearing took place at the appointed time without the participation of the trade union representatives. Before that the executive body of the BKDP notified the Supreme Court that it could not participate in the hearing because the legal representatives of the BKDP Aliaksandr Yarashuk and Siarhei Antusevich were in prison.

- It is obvious to us what decision the Supreme Court will make. Without affiliated trade unions, the BKDP as an association has no legal basis for existence, - then acting chairman of the BKDP Maksim Pazniakou said.

On 12 and 14 July the Supreme Court liquidated the affiliated organisations of the BKDP: Belarusian Independent Trade Union, Belarusian Trade Union of Radioelectronic Industry Workers, Free Trade Union of Belarus, Free Trade Union of Metalworkers. The Prosecutor General's Office of Belarus, on whose claims the Supreme Court ruled to liquidate the unions.

Meanwhile, the Director-General of the International Labour Organisation expressed deep concern over reports of the arrest of trade union leaders in Belarus and demanded that people stop being intimidated for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of association.

International trade union associations did not recognize the liquidation of the BKDP and its structures by the Belarusian authorities and to this day they perceive them as full-fledged member organizations. ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said:

- We categorically condemn this move to destroy independent trade unions in Belarus. It will only move the country further away from being a better place for all workers. The elimination of independent trade unions will not stop people from demanding their basic rights and acting accordingly.

At the moment, any trade union activity outside the pro-government Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB) is banned in Belarus. About fifty trade union leaders and activists are in prison, and many have already served their prison sentences and have been released. Some trade union leaders have been sentenced to unthinkable prison terms ranging from 9 to 15 years.

Speech by a representative of the BCDP to the ICM
Speech by a representative of the BKDP to the ICM

After such blatant violations of human rights and the right to freedom of association, the International Labour Conference (ILC) invoked the 33rd paragraph of the ILO Constitution against the government of Belarus and demanded that its member countries influence by all possible means Belarus' compliance with international labour standards.

The ILC resolution notes the need for the immediate dropping of all charges and the release of trade union leaders and democratic trade union activists. The Belarusian authorities are also required to amend legislation to guarantee workers protection from any form of discrimination for taking part in peaceful strikes in defence of their professional and economic interests.

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