On October 23-24, Bremen hosted an important event - an international trade union conference on workers' rights in Belarus. The event was attended by several dozen representatives of global trade union federations, national trade unions and Belarusian trade union leaders. The conference was initiated and organized by Salidarnast e.V., Global Labour University, DGB and FES.
Lizaveta Merliak, Chairperson of Salidarnast e.V., informed about the activities of the organization, which aims to draw the attention of the world community to the Belarusian democratic trade union movement liquidation and the demands for the release of political prisoners from the labour movement, including fifty representatives of democratic trade unions.
Despite the adoption of the resolution of the International Labour Conference on the application of article 33 of the ILO Constitution for non-compliance with workers' rights, repression continues in Belarus. Arrests and detentions occur daily, including of workers at their work places.
Some unionists have already served their sentences and been released, but their freedom is restricted. In some cases they have been classified as extremists, which means that they are under constant surveillance and their rights are restricted.
One of the former political prisoners, Leanid Sudalenka, who attended the conference, spoke briefly about the conditions in the colony as well as about the situation of political prisoners after their release. He emphasized how insufficient medical care of the political prisoners was, the restriction of their rights and the bullying in the colonies.
During the period of detention, the health of Hennadz Fiadynich and Vatslau Areshka deteriorated, and Vasil Berasneu needs a kidney transplant. Detention conditions were tightened for BKDP leader Aliaksandr Yarashuk, who was transferred from the colony to prison.
The situation of political prisoners is critical, and elderly prisoners who have been sentenced to long prison terms are in danger of not living to see their release.
- Filing complaints and using bureaucratic means to influence Belarusian authorities is time-consuming and too slow. Therefore, today we should perhaps consider other mechanisms that work faster, - said Leonid Sudalenka.
In addition to the long-known difficulties related to disrespect for workers' rights in Belarus, a new serious problem has recently arisen in connection with the deportation of an activist of the Free Metalworkers Union, Ala Tsvirko who was denied political asylum in Sweden on the grounds that her trade union activities and the criminal proceedings against her would not be considered an act of political persecution by the immigration authorities. The comon strong reaction and support of the Swedish trade unions did not change the mind of the immigration authorities.
With help of the Polish trade union NSZZ Solidarnosc and the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ala avoided deportation. This case could become an unfavorable precedent for other countries where trade unionists seek political asylum.
The second important issue is the application of article 33 of the Constitution of the International Labour Organization to Belarus. The participants of the conference stressed that its application in practice is of key importance for the entire global trade union movement. The adoption of this article at the International Labour Conference was the result of twenty years of efforts.
- If we do not use this tool, we run the risk of losing it. - Stated Kirill Buketov of the IUF. - We cannot afford to do that, especially to those who are in Belarusian prisons.
The participants of the event noted that all UN structures and key figures of international structures should be better informed of the adoption of the article and the mechanism of its application.
In the opinion of International participants of the conference, the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus, FPB should not be considered by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as the representative of Belarusian workers, and FPB affiliates should not remain in the ranks of the global trade union federations. Some affiliates of global union federations consider the prospect of excluding the state Belarusian unions as a political action. However, these state unions do not hide the fact that they are part of Lukashenka's political system. Their presence in the ranks of global union federations, according to conference participants, weakens the position of the democratic labour movement.
The participants of the conference concluded that it is necessary to work in a coordinated way with the governments of the countries in the framework of the tripartite consultations on the measures applied to Belarus. It is also important to work with multinational corporations that continue to do business in Belarus. According to the American unions, the M-POWER mechanism can be used to disseminate information about the violation of workers' rights in Belarus for those unions that are far removed from the Belarusian reality. In addition, trade union leaders are sure that it is necessary to introduce personal sanctions against those who were involved in the destruction of democratic trade unions and the arrest of trade union activists.
In order to draw attention to destruction of the democratic labour movement in Belarus and solidarity with it, it was proposed to introduce an international day of solidarity with the Belarusian trade unions on the 19th of April, and to organize actions on this day.
Maria Zharylouskaya and Yury Ravavoi called on trade union leaders to join the information campaign against forced labour in Belarus and to support the solution of this problem at the global level.
A solemn moment was the awarding of the Arthur Svenson Prize, sponsored by the Norwegian trade union Industri Energi, which has already been awarded to the BKDP in 2021. The event was held at a convenient time and the award was presented by Espen Loken from the Norwegian union to Maksim Pazniakou from BKDP.
The conference concluded its work by formulating a series of urgent actions to be taken in the near future.