The Belarusian authorities have repeatedly been spotted in involving people into voluntary-compulsory field labour, e.g. digging potatoes. This time, at least 150 students of Vitsebsk State University have to pick apples for a local cannery in Talochyn district, their payment being a mere pittance.
“We have not had any days off. On Saturday, the working hours were cut. Usually our working day was over at 17:30, then we went to the canteen. On Saturday we worked till 16:30 , on Sunday – till 14:00,” a student said.
Refusing to comment on the situation, the higher educational institution referred the journalists to the pro-government youth union (BRSM) that is allegedly in charge of ‘student teams’ (the official name of sending students to agricultural works). However, the leaders of the city and republican departments were said to be away from their desks.
According to Vitsebsk-based human rights activist Leanid Svetsik, it is illegal to involve students into field works in the course of their studies; the existing practice is nothing but forced labour. But no one informs students of their rights.
“The Education Code prohibits the engagement of pupils and students for any works or rendering services. It is unlawful, but students agree to it, because they do not know their rights or are simply afraid to say no to the administration of educational institutions,” he says.
The Belarusian law provides for students’ labour only in case if it corresponds to a profession they learn and is included in the education plan.