‘Distinctly Soviet features’: Amnesty International calls for solidarity with Belarus’ independent trade unions

The Belarusian authorities are ruthlessly targeting independent trade unions and trampling on labour rights as part of their brutal crackdown on the protest movement, Amnesty International said on Thursday.

In its new briefing, the organisation highlights the reprisals against independent trade unions and their members. These include unlawful dismissals, arrests and criminal prosecution of labour rights activists breaching the government’s international treaty obligations to respect freedom of association and the rights of workers to freely form and join trade unions.

“Belarus has retained distinctly Soviet features since the break-up of the USSR. This includes the total domination of the economy by the state, which remains the biggest national employer and seeks to exercise effective control over all trade unions. The state-run trade unions, which effectively lack any independence, act more like a branch of government than the protector of workers,” said Heather McGill, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia researcher.

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According to her, when mass protests started in August 2020 many workers responded by organising strikes and walk-outs at state run enterprises; in many instances independent trade unions were formed when pro-government unions failed to support the workers, and these quickly became targets for government repression. The authorities have used every means available to prevent workers from joining the protest movement and setting up independent trade unions. This has included imposing threats, fines, dismissals, and finally, criminal prosecution of trade union members, McGill stressed.

“We call for international solidarity with Belarus’ trade union activists who are paying a high price for defending workers’ rights in their country,” the expert added.

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belsat.eu, following amnesty.org