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Solidarity with Belarusian healthcare workers resounded at EPSU Congress

June 21, the European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) concluded its Congress in Bucharest, Romania, which has brought together delegates from various countries to discuss topical issues of industrial relations and workers’ rights. Maria Taradetskaya representing the Association “Salidarnast” was among the participants.

Maria Taradetskaya speaking
Maria Taradetskaya speaking

She took part in the panel discussion “Trade Unionism Is Not a Crime” together with her colleagues from the Royal College of Nursing (UK), FNME-CGT (France), SES-Sağlık ve Sosyal Hizmet Emekçileri Sendikası (Turkey), and Julkisten ja hyvinvointialojen liitto JHL (Finland).

Maria started her intervention with a brief overview of the situation of democratic union in Belarus. She stressed that the country was among the world’s ten worst counries for workers, according to the ITUC 2024 Global Rights Index. While the International Labour Organization (ILO), for the second time in more than a century of its history, invoked Article 33 of the ILO Constitution with regard to Belarus because of the persistent violations of freedom of association.

Maria recalled that on April 19, 2022, the many years of the Belarusian dictatorship's struggle against independent trade unions culminated in sweeping arrests of their leaders and activists and the forcible dissolution of all democratic trade unions in the country.

“So, we are extremely grateful for the support provided to the independent union of healthcare workers “Panacea” in these difficult times,” said she.

Maria put a special emphasis on the period of the COVID-19 pandemic. She told the participants that the Belarusian State denied the existence of the virus, leaving medical workers unprotected amidst the crisis. “The names of physicians who perished fighting COVID were never published; the statistics were fake,” said she.

Under those circumstances, the healthcare sector was only sustained by the self-organizing civil society collecting donations to buy PPEs for medics. Healthcare workers were also the first to witness the beatings and torture suffered by peaceful protestors in 2020. As a result, they started actively joining the democratic “Panacea” Union affiliated to the Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB), demanding to stop the violence and engage in collective bargaining.

Maria described the obstacles faced by the democratic unions in Belarus. The membership lists of the “Panacea” Union ended up in the hands of the KGB, leading to a new wave of arrests, dismissals, and prohibitions to practice affecting many doctors. Some of them are still in prison, while scores of others had to flee the country.

Maria concluded her presentation, describing a paradoxical situation in Belarus, where the Government ardently maintains that the situation of trade unions is good, showcasing the pro-Government “yellow” Trade Union Federation of Belarus (FPB). “While workers continue to be arrested right at their workplaces, even in foreign companies,” said she.

For instance, on June 14, 2024, workers were arrested at the Belarusian subsidiary of the German company Haver & Boecker OHG. “This was quite the joke: at the moment when Haver BY workers were arrested under the barrels of submachine guns, the State delegation of Belarus was at the International Labour Conference, reporting the Belarusian Government’s compliance with the core ILO conventions,” she added.

The EPSU Congress was concluded with the adoption of political decisions for the next five years for the GUF’s affiliated representing 8 million public service workers. Françoise Geng was elected the new EPSU President, and Jan Willem Goudriaan was re-elected as the General Secretary.

Discussions touched upon the provision of quality public services and the creation of strong public service workers’ unions. An inspiring speech from Ludovic Voet of the ETUC was devoted to countermeasures against austerity. Also, the Congress adopted an emergency resolution against the far-right.

The EPSU Congress showed unity and resolve of trade unionists in their fight for workers’ rights and their support of democratic trade unions like the “Panacea” Health Workers’ Union in Belarus.

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