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BELAVIA lays off important specialists on political grounds

It has turned out that, starting from 2021, the Belavia airline has engaged in massive dismissals of employees on political grounds. They fired pilots, flight attendants, maintenance personnel. Some of the dismissed employees were put behind bars.

Minsk National Airport. A picture from the website
Minsk National Airport. A picture from the website

What has been going on in the company in the recent years and how the repressions impact flight safety was the subject of an interview «Zerkalo» had with an informed source.

“Those fired were among the best”

According to The Mirror’s source, starting from 2021, Belavia has been regularly laying people off because of their political views. The redundancies involved pilots, expert technicians, flight attendants. Some of them were detained to spend a day behind bars.

“It all started in 2021, when a KGB curator by the name of Oleg Gavrilik turned up in Belavia”, says our interlocutor. “He took the position of Deputy Manager for safety, security, and staff matters. If I remember correctly, in the summer of 2021 one of our female flight attendants was detained for 15 days. Upon release, she immediately left Belarus. But the repressions did not become massive before 2022. Then, another female flight attendant was detained. As far as I know, she had a rough time in the slammer, like almost sleeping on the bare floor in her cell. Upon her release, the company instantly fired her. In the autumn, they refused to renew employment contracts with those pilots who had taken part in the protests. This move affected people whose contracts were about to expire. People with longer term contracts would be put behind bars for a day. One day, they detained two male flight attendants. There were rumors that some lists had been handed down from up on high, containing the names of those slated for dismissal. I needn’t explain to you that rank-and-file employees never saw those lists. But I was told that the names were many. The listed employees would be summoned by the management and informed that their contracts were not going to be renewed. By way of explanation they would offer something like “your participation in the protests was recorded, we have no complaints regarding your performance at work but you understand how things are, right?”

“In 2023, the repressions continued”, says the interlocutor. “One female flight attendant was sentenced to three years of labour at a hazardous chemicals plant. Several people were fired - pilots, second pilots, and even captains among them.”

“I’d like to stress that some of the best commanders got the sack”, says the source. “Belavia always had a shortage of such people, top professionals with many years in the industry under their belt. But they were shown the door anyway. All services of the airline have lost many good specialists. There were those among them who’d been summoned for a “talk” with the KGB curator. I don’t know exactly what they talked about but, ultimately, they were all sacked.”

“Some colleagues would go to the protests together”

The redundancies affected mostly those airline employees who had taken active part in the protests of the summer and autumn 2020. The Mirror’s source says that many of his colleagues were vocal then, protesting against the rigged elections and the violence of the police and security forces. Even the Belavia Workers’ Union supported the company employees.

“When the protests were just unfolding, everyone harboured big hopes”, says the interlocutor. “Many would come to work wearing white or red-and-white bracelets. No objections came from the management. At the time, the Belavia CEO was Anatoly Gusarov, now deceased (in early 2021, Igor Cherginets was appointed Head of Belavia – Editor’s Note). The announcements wall-board on the premises even featured a statement from the Union demanding to stop the violence (a photo of the statement is available at the Editor’s Office — Editor’s Note). The management would say that employees were free to take to the streets and voice their positions as long as they didn’t wear the Belavia uniform. Some colleagues — flight attendants, technicians, pilots — would form groups and go to the protests together.”

The airline employees earnestly considered going on strike. According to the source, even some pilots were prepared to join. But the workforce never managed to get organized.

“Different sentiments were brooding at the time”, remembers the source. “There were rumors that the BELAZ and MAZ auto works would go on strike any day now. And we were talking among ourselves if we should probably do the same. Even despite provisions in the law which allegedly said that workers in the crucial industries (railway men, aviation specialists, etc.) had no right to go on strike. Many people thought that a stoppage in a company like Belavia will have a country-wide effect. Some were scared, they would say “how come, this is against the law”. But what law was there to talk about when people were killed right there in the streets? I know that many would agree to go on strike. This was discussed with the maintenance people and some of the pilots. The problem was that an airline is not a factory where people come to work on the same shop floor and can somehow agree on things and group together. Here, employees fly different planes, see but a handful of colleagues during their shifts. So, The Great Unification around the idea of a strike never materialized.

It should be noted that hundreds of workers were dismissed all over the country for taking part in strike actions and being members of strike committees which would spring up massively at a large number of enterprises during the 2020 protests. For the last three years demonstrative detentions of workers at their workplaces have continued. Currently, the country prisons hold around half a hundred of activists and leaders of democratic trade unions.

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