Belarus: ILO tightens pressure over workers’ rights violations

photo: Artur Widak, NurPhoto via AFP

The ILO is increasing pressure on the Belarus government over its continued and severe violations of fundamental workers’ rights.

Belarus has failed to abide by key findings of a 2004 ILO Commission of Inquiry, and the Lukashenko regime has continued the persecution of trade unionists, imprisoning several union leaders and staff in recent months and liquidating trade unions.

Last week, the tripartite ILO Governing Body concluded that any ILO engagement with Belarus, except for securing immediate and full compliance with the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry, will be frozen, and submitted a resolution to this year’s International Labour Conference.

The resolution calls on governments, as well as social partners, to:

  • Review any relations they have with Belarus.
  • Respect the principle of not forcing refugees or asylum seekers to return to Belarus (non-refoulement) given the risks there to any trade unionist or human rights defender.

It also includes the ILO formally alerting other international organisations of Belarus’ failure to comply with the 2004 Inquiry and requesting they review any cooperation with Belarus and “cease as soon as possible any activity that could have the effect of directly or indirectly justifying the absence of actions to redress the situation concerning the non-respect of trade union rights in the country.”

It further calls on the Lukashenko government to accept an urgent tripartite ILO mission to examine the situation, including a visit to the independent trade union leaders and activists in prison or detention.

On 24 March, the Belarus Supreme Court rejected an appeal against the prison sentences imposed on officials and staff of the independent trade union centre BKDP, Aliaksandr Yarashuk, Siarhei Antusevich and Iryna But-Husaim. Yarashuk is a member of the ILO Governing Body.

“These are very strong measures from the ILO. International pressure will continue and build until the Lukashenko government respects workers’ fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The Supreme Court decision shows that the government is continuing to ignore the ILO and flout international law. We again call upon the authorities to drop the charges against trade unionists for simply undertaking legitimate trade union activities, and to release them from prison immediately,” said ITUC President Akiko Gono.

Other key decisions of the Governing Body included the ILO preparing regulation to better secure decent work in the platform economy, and implementation of a new strategy on decent work in supply chains. Discussions also included a review of ILO strategy on occupational safety and health, which is now an ILO Fundamental Right at Work, as well as ILO action in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Venezuela and around Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.