Belarus: Government steps up effort to suppress strikes

The government of Belarus has imposed 15-day prison sentences on striking workers at the Belaruskali mining conglomerate. The workers include Siarhei Charkasau, co-chair of the strike committee at the Belaruskali mining conglomerate and vice president of the Belarus Independent Union, an affiliate of the BKDP, and his colleagues Raman Liavonchyk and Pavel Razumovskiy. Belaruskali is the major global exporter of potash and is a key source of income for the country.

Belaruskaliy is the major global exporter of potash and is a key source of income for the country. Following a court decision declaring the strike at the state-owned Belaruskaliy illegal, workers there announced an open-ended strike based on the country’s Constitution, which gives primacy to international law. Belarus has ratified ILO Convention 87, which protects the right to strike.

The ITUC has documented more than 40 cases of independent union supporters being arrested, detained, intimidated and in several cases imprisoned, and many more have been rounded up in the huge public demonstrations in recent weeks. Siarhei Hurlo, chair of the independent union at the Belshina tyre manufacturer who has also been sentenced to prison, has been on hunger strike for the past five days.

“While the world’s attention focuses on the mass protests and hundreds of arrests, a less visible but vitally important struggle for workers’ rights, in particular the right to strike, is underway in workplaces around the country. We condemn the government’s ongoing intimidation and repression and call for it to respect its obligations under the Constitution of Belarus instead of misusing the legal system to protect its own interests and in particular the interests of Alexander Lukashenko ,” said ITUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow.

In a letter to Alexander Lukashenko, ILO Director General, Guy Ryder, said: “No one should be deprived of their freedom or be subject to penal sanctions for the mere fact of organizing or participating in a peaceful strike or protest.”

The global union federation, BWI, has called on UEFA to reconsider its decision to hold its Congress in Minsk next March, in a move supported by the ITUC, which is likely to gain momentum if the government continues its repression.

“The government has failed to fully implement the findings of a 2004 ILO Commission of Inquiry, and this latest fully fledged assault on the right to strike is a completely unacceptable escalation of anti-union repression. The international trade union movement stands in solidarity with our affiliate, the BKDP, and will continue to mobilise global support,” said Ms Burrow.

The UN Human Rights Council will discuss a resolution on Belarus later this week, and a focus on the full respect of the fundamental right of Belarusian workers to strike without risk of dismissal, arrest or other reprisals, in line with ILO Conventions 87 and 98, will be key to its impact.

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