The Belarusian Trade Union of Chemical, Mining and Oil Industries Workers (BELKHIMPROFSOYUZ), which is part of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, is a key element of the pro-government trade union structure. Today it unites more than 100 thousand workers in one of the most profitable sectors of the country's economy, including leading companies such as Belaruskali, Naftan, Grodno Azot, Mozyr Oil Refinery and others.
If you visit the Belkhimprofsoyuz website, you will notice that in the list of "main activities" the first item is "cooperation with state bodies and public associations, development of social partnership". And only then the "protection of the social and economic rights and interests of trade union members". This is no coincidence on the organisation's official website, but reflects the legacy of the Soviet system and the ideology of Belkhimprofsoyuz, where interaction with the authorities has always been at the forefront.
The history of Belkhimprofsoyuz is imbued with this principle. The lack of genuine autonomy and submission to a regime are the basic conditions for the existence of this structure. Precisely because it does not represent the interests of workers within the framework of the power of labour, it is easier for them to obey the current government, which is also the employer of the overwhelming number of large enterprises in Belarus.
The essence of this structure is reduced to the imitation of social dialogue and partnership, with complete dependence on the regime. It does not promote the principle of autonomy and the struggle for workers' rights, which makes it ineffective and helpless.
The Belkhimprofsoyuz, established at the beginning of the 20th century, lost its role over time and became a structure focused on supporting production processes and providing various benefits.
The vacuum in the Belarusian trade union system after the collapse of the USSR led to the emergence of independent trade unions, which were seen as competitors and even opponents of the government-affiliated trade union structures. Democratic trade unions such as the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, the Free Trade Union of Belarus, Confederation of Labour of Belarus and others were confronted with the incomprehension of soviet traditional trade union officials, who accused them of fragmenting the labour movement.
Slow transformation and subordination
In the 1990s, the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FPB), which attempted to develop from a post-totalitarian structure into a democratic one, failed. The confrontation with Alexander Lukashenko after his election in 1994 revealed its autocratic character. The Minsk Metro strike in 1995 was a turning point that made clear Lukashenko's uncompromising use of force to suppress the workers' protests.
The transformation of Belkhimprofsoyuz and the FPB as a whole was slow. The integration of FPB structures into the international trade union democracy movement brought only minimal results. The mental attachment of the leadership to the administration of enterprises and the direct dependence hindered the democratisation of the structure.
After the second presidential election, Lukashenko decided to finally subordinate the largest trade union federation. Pressure from the banking sector and elimination of supporters within the FPB led to the dismissal of chairman Franz Vitko and the appointment of Leonid Kozik, the former deputy head of Lukashenka's administration.
Kozik's task was to restore "order" in the labour movement. This included complete control of the FPB and the elimination of competitors in the form of the structure of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions. Unwanted FPB leaders were replaced by various methods, including the fight against corruption in the structures of the federation.
Immediately after Kozik's election, in 2003, Alexander Lukashenko included the chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus into the personnel register of the Head of State of the Republic of Belarus by his Decree No. 18. Since then, the Chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus has been considered an integral part of the administrative apparatus. For this reason, the Chairman of the Federation regularly reports to the country's most important employer - Alexander Lukashenko - on the activities of the FPB.
Since 2004, the authorities have been seriously committed to fight against democratic trade unions. Joint actions of the company administration and local authorities contributed to the strangulation of independent trade unions by the contract system and to the strengthening of Belkhimprofsoyuz as the only social partner in the enterprises of the Belneftekhim state concern for oil and chemicals.
In 2007, BNP chairman Vasil Korabau and later the first chairman of the branch Yury Shvets from Mozyr oil refinery accused the representatives of Belkhimprofsoyuz and the management of some enterprises of withdrawing trade union members. The management of Belkhimprofsoyuz even secretly concluded the collective agreement for the industry with the group's management in 2009 without notifying the BNP.
All these facts were presented to the ICEM management with the demand to expel Belkhimprofsoyuz for unfriendly actions. However, the expulsion did not take place and the management of Belkhimprofsoyuz continued to reject the accusations and was already acting more cautiously.
Cracking down on "independents"
In 2010, Svetlana Klochok was appointed chairwoman of Belkhimprofsoyuz, making her the ideal example of a pro-government trade union official. As Deputy General Director for Personnel and Ideological Work at Belmedpreparaty RUE, she has experience in managing a trade union organisation and knowledge of ideological work with workers.
In fact, the ideologist at the Belarusian enterprise plays an important role by monitoring the ideological situation and maintaining "state power" in the company. This person is obliged to cooperate with the local authorities, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB. Keeping an eye on stability and monitoring ideological opponents of Lukashenko's regime in the company entrusted to them, including political and civil activists and representatives of democratic trade unions.
In this context, the image of the incumbent leader of Belkhimprofsoyuz becomes particularly revealing. Since 2007, with mass introduction of the short-term contract system the independent unions and their members have been under pressure. The administration forced workers to leave the BNP and join Belkhimprofsoyuz. The "instrument" of short-term contracts was used to put pressure on members of independent trade unions. The facts of pressure and discrimination are reflected in the reports that have been sent to the International Labour Organisation every year for the past 20 years.
In 12 years, the largest of the independent unions, the BNP, has shrunk from 7,000 to 4,500 members. The same has happened to the REP, SPB and SPM unions. The democratic trade unions in state-owned companies have been discriminated against in order to reduce their representativeness.
In trying to form a non-systemic union, workers encountered resistance from pro-government unions, which tried to prevent the emergence of alternative organisations, especially in state-owned enterprises. A sad example is the attempt to establish a BNP primary union at Granit RUPP. 9 activists and leaders of the organisation were dismissed and the primary union was denied registration.
Between 2010 and 2019, the BNP twice demanded that Belkhimprofsoyuz be expelled from IndustriALL Global Union for violating its statutory principles. However, both attempts failed. Even the fact that Ivan Golovaty, General Director of Belaruskali, one of the most ardent enemies of independent trade unions, has joined Belkhimprofsoyuz has not affected its status in the international trade union movement.
In the service of the regime
In August 2020, the situation for the labour movement in Belarus deteriorated after workers openly protested against the violence of the security forces and the falsification of the presidential election results. Spontaneous gatherings at dozens of companies alarmed the regime. One expression of the protest was the mass resignation from the trade unions affiliated with the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, which is linked to the authorities of Belarus.
It should be noted that the head of the FPB, Mikhail Orda, became Alexander Lukashenko's deputy for the 2020 elections. The state unions, including Belkhimprofsoyuz, were actively involved in the election campaign and the collection of signatures in favour of Lukashenko. This was the reason for the mass resignation from the FPB trade unions. About 5,000 workers left the pro-government unions and expressed their desire to join independent unions or form their own.
After the suppression of the protests and the onset of political terror, the BNP and other democratic trade unions were liquidated by the authorities for supporting the strike movement. Their leaders were arrested or forced to leave the country. Now Belhimprofsoyuz, like the FPB, has no internal rivals.
Some Belkhimprofsoyuz functionaries have even taken part in trials against leaders and activists of independent trade unions. For example, Andrei Rybak, chairman of the primary organisation of Belkhimprofsoyuz at Belaruskali, who claimed that his union was against the strike, while the Independent Trade Union supported the strike. After such evidence Aliaksandr Mishuk, the chair of the Independent trade union of miners at Belaruskali, was sentenced to 2.5 years in a penal colony at the trial.
It is also known that Andrei Rozhynski, then the chairman of the Belhimprofsoyuz at Hrodna Azot, appeared as a witness in the trial of members of the Rabochy Rukh initiative and members of the BNP and testified against the workers of the Hrodna company, who were sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Leading representatives of pro-government trade unions not only actively sided with the ruling authoritarian regime during the protests, but also carried out propaganda work after their suppression. Dmitry Shvaiba, one of the leaders of Belhimprofsoyuz, for example, gives lectures in which he spreads the regime's propaganda.
Taking part in abduction of children from Ukraine
Since the beginning of Russia's large-scale aggression against Ukraine, the FPB has actively disseminated pro-government military propaganda through its information sources. FPB members participate in military-ideological events, and Belkhimprofsoyuz cooperates with a foundation that supports the forced deportation of children from Ukraine to Belarus, which is considered genocide by the international community.
The chairman of the Minsk regional organisation of Belhimprofsoyuz Dmitry Shvaiba took part in the activities of the Talai Foundation in March 2022. He also confirmed that the sanatoriums and recreation centres of Belhimprofsoyuz are used for this purpose:
- For the next group of Ukrainian children, we will provide one hundred places in our health camp with full board for three weeks. In addition, we will support all children who want to connect their lives with our industry. And there are a lot of them, because many of them come from mining families. Young people with the right core, bright-eyed, tenacious... They can enter the Soligorsk Mining and Technical School or the Petrikov Vocational School and receive not only accommodation, but also a scholarship from our companies to work in the future.
According to the British newspaper The Telegraph, the children from Ukraine are mainly accommodated in four Belarusian camps: the "Dubrava" camp, the "Ostroshitski Gorodok" sanatorium,the "Zubrenok" educational and recreational centre (all in the Minsk district) and the "Zolotyie peski" sanatorium in the Homel district. More than two thousand children have been accommodated there since fall 2022.
And all this against the backdrop of the arrests of the BKDP leadership, which has called for a halt to military aggression against Ukraine and the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territory of Belarus.
Since the Lukashenko regime became a military satellite of Russia in February 2022, a number of sanctions have been imposed on Belarus, affecting key sectors of the country's economy. Belkhimprofsoyuz's membership in IndustriALL is now being used by the Lukashenko regime as a platform to circumvent isolation and build relationships with countries in the Global South through trade unions in order to continue marketing sanctioned products. First of all, mineral fertilisers.
To this end, the authorities are now trying to establish relations with the Brazilian Workers' Party (PT) and representatives of the Brazilian embassy. And recently, Belarusian propaganda talked about the possible visit of Brazilian President Lula da Silva to Minsk. Belhimprofsoyuz is playing the role of the regime's Trojan horse.
The democratic labour movement in modern Belarus was destroyed and enterprises were purged of "unreliable" workers. The activity of unregistered trade unions is prohibited by law and punishable by criminal penalties. Workers are only allowed to belong to the only trade union structure - the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, to which Belkhimprofsoyuz also belongs. Belarus has confidently returned to the practises of the Stalinist era, according to the principle: one leader, one party, one trade union!
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