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Global union demands end to Belarus attacks on independent unions

TONY BURKE reports on the increasing number of instances of harassment and repression of trade union organisers

THE giant global trade union IndustriALL — representing manufacturing and energy workers — has reported increased repression against the Belarus independent trade union the Free Metal Workers (SPM, which is affiliated to IndustriALL) and its members who have faced dismissals and detention, with some forced to flee Belarus to avoid prosecution.

IndustriALL reports that almost all SPM local union chairs were fired from their companies, including Minsk Automobile Plant (MAZ), BELAZ, Minsk Tractor Works (MTW), BKM Holding: Minsk Motor Plant (MMP: Minsk Wheel Tractor Plant and Minsk Electrotechnical Plant).

On November 17 last year, the local SPM chair at MAZ, Artyom Zhernak was detained by the state security committee and his apartment was searched twice. Zhernak remains in custody.

IndustriALL general secretary Atle Hoie has written to the chairman of the investigative committee and the prosecutor-general of the republic of Belarus, demanding the immediate release all union leaders and activists who are illegally detained, including Zhernak, and demanded that the continuing violations of international obligations in accordance with ILO Convention 87, which has been ratified by Belarus, be stopped.

Other violations include a search conducted at the home of Alla Tsvirko, an SPM activist at MAZ.

Under the threat of criminal prosecution, Tsvirko was forced to flee Belarus, as was the SPM press secretary at MAZ, Sergey Gultsov.

Repression has intensified against SPM union members at MMP. In October, Nikolai Shibeko was detained, his home searched and equipment seized and state security officers took SPM members Pavel Gaiduk and Daniil Vosinsky from work. They were sentenced to 10 and 15 days of arrest respectively and fired from MMP after their release.

On the same day, union member Alexander Mogilevich was taken to the state security committee for interrogation.

In November, Viktor Verovsky, a member of SPM whose contract with MMP had been not extended during the summer, was detained and sentenced to 45 days of arrest.

State security officers searched the home of Andrei Komlik-Yamatin, a former MMP worker and SPM member, and he was forced to flee the country.

The home of SPM activist at BELAZ, Alexander Smolsky, was searched three times and he had to leave Belarus under the threat of criminal prosecution.

At the end of 2021, after prolonged pressure and threats, BELAZ did not extend the labour contract of Alexey Gubich, the SPM local chair. After his dismissal, four members of the SPM local union were deprived of bonus payments.

In December, SPM member Viktor Mikhalchik was detained in Grodno for two days and later fined.

The harassment of union members has also led to discrimination, with SPM union members excluded from various additional payments and incentives guaranteed under collective agreements.

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