Belarus: ITUC reaffirms support for unions under sustained attack

The ITUC has restated its support for the independent trade unions in Belarus as the government there intensifies its attacks on the movement.

Of the dozens of union leaders and officials detained in April, at least 10 remain in custody, with limited or no access to their families or trade union colleagues.

Among them are:

  • Aliaksandr Yarashuk, the president of Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) and a member of the ILO Governing Body;
  • Siarhei Antusevich, vice president of BKDP; and
  • Gennadiy Fedynich, leader of the Trade Union of Workers of the Radio Electronics Industry (REP).

They have been charged under article 342, part 1, of the Criminal Code for “organisation and preparation of acts seriously disrupting public order, or active participation in them”. This charge carries the threat of a prison sentence of up to four years.

Mikalai Sharakh, the president of the Free Trade Union of Belarus (FPB), and Aliaksandr Bukhvostov, the president of the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM), have been released but still face similar charges.

In other developments:

  • The BKDP Council met on 13 May and appointed the Belarusian Independent Trade Union of miners and chemical workers (BITU) Chairperson Maksim Pazniakou BKDP acting president.
  • 17 May, Maksim Pazniakou was arrested by state authorities near his daughters’ kindergarten. He was sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention on 19 May.
  • 18 May, Vice-Chairperson of REP Zinaida Mikhniuk was found guilty under article 368, "insulting the president of the Republic of Belarus". She was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment in a general-security penal colony.
  • 19 May, prosecutors demanded that BITU handover trade union documents including details of union member. Similar requests were sent to other BKDP affiliates, even when all the trade union documents had been seized by the KGB during searches of 19 April.

ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow said: “What’s really chilling about this is an attempt to criminalise ‘preparations’ and to label trade unionists as ‘extremists’. The illegitimate Lukashenko regime is trying to outlaw day-to-day trade union activity, it’s trying to wipe out the independent trade union movement, it’s attacking the basic rights of working people in Belarus and we won’t stand for it.

“The global union movement is 100 per cent in solidarity with the independent trade unions of Belarus, and we are doing everything we can to support them.

“We demand the immediate release of all union leaders and officials and the withdrawal of all charges, but we urgently want them to have the right to receive visitors, including officials of the ILO, who can check on their welfare.”

Global Unions has published this statement calling for the immediate release of the jailed union activists that states: “We will use the forthcoming International Labour Conference and the subsequent ILO Governing Body to increase the pressure on the illegitimate regime of Belarus.”

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