President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko

Belarus’ free trade unions continue their fight for workers’ rights, after the Lukashenko regime banned their organisations.

In October, exiled union leaders launched Salidarnast, or Solidarity, from the former offices of the Belarussian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) in Berlin. The association is the legal successor to the BKDP, which Belarus’s supreme court liquidated earlier this year.

The goal of Salidarnast is “the revival of an independent trade union movement in Belarus with the aim of creating a democratic society based on the principles of social justice and decent work.”

On Sunday, a court in Minsk set a trial date for former chair and deputy chair of the BKDP, Aliaksandr Yarashuk and Siarhei Antusevich. Also in court was BKDP’s accountant, Iryna But-Husaim. All three will return to court on 20 December for trial.

President Alexandr Lukashenko chose this year to increase his attacks on trade unions and workers’ rights in Belarus. The BKDP and other unions led a series of strikes after 2020’s fraudulent presidential election. Unions also collaborated with human rights and student groups during protests.

Earlier this year, the BKDP protested Belarus’ complicity in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Yarashuk wrote on the union’s website: “The war in Ukraine has pushed into the background all the other problems Belarusians are facing.” He went on to say that 95% of Belarussians are against the conflict.

Shortly after, the KGB broke into a BKDP regional office, seized documents and computers, and arrested Yarashuk and Antusevich. They then declared the BKDP, Free Metal Workers’ Union, the Belarussian Free Trade Union, and the Radio and Electronics Industry Union “extremist” organisations. Police also arrested leaders in those organisations.

The Minsk-based Viasna Human Rights Centre reports there are at least 1,447 political prisoners in Belarus. 33 union leaders and activists are in jail. Several are serving two-and-a-half or three-year sentences.

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is in the process of developing sanctions against Belarus. General Secretary, Guy Ryder expressed “deep concern at reports of the detention of union leaders” in the country. These sanctions will need a two-thirds majority from member states to be imposed.

The UN has also recognised Belarus’s intention to withdraw from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This means that Belarussian nationals will not be able to report violations of their political rights to the UN after February 2023.

Salidarnast continues the work of the BKDP out of Germany. You can follow them on Twitter @sali_darnast.

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Image credit: Serge Serebro, Vitebsk Popular News