NEW WAVE OF HARSH SENTENCES SLAMS BELARUS UNIONS

NEW WAVE OF HARSH SENTENCES SLAMS BELARUS UNIONS

In the wake of a new wave of prison sentences against union leaders and other activists arrested earlier this year, new Belarus worker rights organization Salidarnast is tracking and disseminating updates on union political prisoners’ legal cases, and providing other worker rights news.     

Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) President Aliaksandr Yarashuk, jailed since April and facing 14 years in prison, was elected in absentia to an ITUC vice-presidency at the organization’s 5th World Congress last month, reports Salidarnast.

Other updates include:

  • Extraordinary mistreatment of two jailed union leaders, Leanid Sudalenka and Volha Brytsikava, for which Brytsikava reportedly started a hunger strike on November 8 and was released last week after having spent more than 105 days behind bars this year–including 75 consecutive days in the spring
  • Continuation of a ten-person trial associated with worker organization Rabochy Rukh for which the accused are facing prison sentences of up to 15 years for high treason, among other charges
  • Grodno Azot fertilizer factory worker and chairperson of the independent trade union there, Andrei Khanevich, whose phone was tapped by Belarusian special service, sentenced to five years in prison for speaking with a BelSat TV reporter
  • Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BNP) Vice Chairperson and Chairperson of the Local Trade Union at Belaruskali fertilizer factory, Aliaksandr Mishuk—detained since May—sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment
  • Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM) Deputy for Organizational Work Yanina Malash—mother of a minor child and detained since April—sentenced to one and a half years’ imprisonment
  • Vital Chychmarou, a former engineer fired in 2020 for trade union activities and manager of an SPM organization, sentenced to three years of home confinement
  • Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM) Trade Union Council Secretary Mikhail Hromau—detained since April—sentenced to two and a half years of home confinement
  • Genadz Bedzeneu, who attempted to start a local union for Polotsk stall market workers, arrested.

Salidarnast is filling an information void created after the Lukashenko government in July forcibly shut down the BDKP and its affiliates, compounded by the detention of dozens of journalists and media workers with other civil society defenders. The number of political prisoners in Belarus stood at almost 1,500 in November, reports the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ); up from 1,000 in February. The Belarus Supreme Court in July dissolved the BKDP and its four affiliates: BNP, the Union of Radio and Electronics Workers (REP), Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB) and SPM.

Salidarnast on December 1 flagged the arrest of at least five people at the Miory steel plant, warning of imprisonment risk for up to ten thousand people who contributed to the “Black Book of Belarus” which identified riot police.

“Despite the destruction of the independent trade union movement, workers in Belarus remain the force which can resist the dictatorship,” says Salidarnast.

The repression and eventual dismantling of the independent Belarus union movement began after hundreds of thousands of people, often led by union members , many of them women, took to the streets in 2020 to protest elections in which President Alexander Lukashenko declared himself winner in a landslide victory amid widespread allegations of fraud. The BKDP—the first Belarus union to be independent of government influence in the post-Soviet era—was founded 29 years ago and has been a member of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) since 2003.

Hear more about workers’ fight for freedom by listening to a Solidarity Center podcast interview in which now-imprisoned BDKP Vice President Sergey Antusevich in 2021 spoke passionately about workers taking to the streets in defense of democracy.  Antusevich has been jailed pending trial since April 2022.

(You can support jailed Belarusian union leaders—take action here).

WEST AFRICA UNIONS FIGHT FOR WORKER RIGHTS IN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT

WEST AFRICA UNIONS FIGHT FOR WORKER RIGHTS IN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT

Solidarity Center
Solidarity Center
WEST AFRICA UNIONS FIGHT FOR WORKER RIGHTS IN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT
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The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was sold with the promise to “promote and attain sustainable and inclusive socioeconomic development, gender equality and structural transformation.” However, many governments’ failure to engage civil society partners, including the labor movement, as they begin to develop national strategies and plans for implementation of the agreement means that the rights of working people are not being effectively represented or protected, and their access to decent work is therefore imperiled.

“Unions in my country are not fully aware of the AfCFTA,” says Sierra Leone Labor Congress (SLLC) Secretary General Max Conteh.

Similarly, trade unions in Mali are yet to familiarize themselves with the agreement and its provisions, says Union Nationale des Travailleurs de Mali (UNTM) General Secretary Seydou Diarra.

In Burkina Faso, “[W]e were not consulted,” says Confédération Nationale des Travailleurs de Burkina (CNTB) Secretary General Augustin Blaise Hien—adding that the AfCFTA is not well synchronized with the country’s existing national plans. AfCFTA creates the largest free trade area in the world measured by the number of countries participating, connecting 1.3 billion people across 55 countries with a combined gross domestic product (GDP) valued at $3.4 trillion. The agreement, which was ratified by the required number of countries in 2019 and came into force last year, is designed to increase intra-African commerce through trade liberalization and enhanced regulatory harmonization and coordination across African states—including a process that will gradually eliminate tariffs on 90 percent of goods.

AfCFTA has potential to raise all boats, including through harmonization of member countries’ labor provisions with international standards. However, unions say that without their participation as advocates for workers’ interests as implementation moves forward, worker rights protections and the shared prosperity promised by agreement proponents—including business and governments—are far from assured.

For example, worker rights and safety improvements cannot be realized under provisions of the AfCFTA until the region’s governments improve current labor laws—or their enforcement systems—say unions. Niger’s current mechanism for applying labor rights, such as labor inspections, does not yet present enough guarantees, says Union Syndicale des Travailleurs du Niger (USTN) Secretary General Alain Adikan. And, in Ghana, lack of resources detracts from the ability of various government agencies to promote and protect the rights of workers and their unions, says Ghana Trades Union Congress (GTUC) Labor Research and Policy Institute Deputy Director Prince Asafu-Adjaye.

And say some West African unions, tighter rules are needed to protect African markets. Countries that import more than they export, like Niger, are potentially disadvantaged under certain provisions of the AfCFTA agreement, says Adikan.

“[It] could lead to enormous losses for a country like ours due to the removal of customs barriers… and can have dire consequences on the purchasing power of workers,” he says.

Inclusive socioeconomic development requires decent worksays the International Labor Organization (ILO). The four pillars of the ILO Decent Work Agendaemployment creation, social protection, rights at work and social dialogue—are therefore integral elements of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  

With Solidarity Center support, the Organization of Trade Unions of West Africa (OTUWA) is developing and sharing a regional position paper on how to address worker rights and promote a decent work agenda within the continental agreement—with participation of the Federation of African Journalists—to educate the public on what is at stake. With its members, OTUWA is focused on mobilizing civil society organizations to better protect consumers’ and working people’s interests as implementation proceeds.

This month eight countries—Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Rwanda, Tanzania and Tunisia—launched the Guided Trade Initiative. The first products to be traded under AfCFTA include ceramic tiles, coffee, corn starch, processed meat products, sugar and tea.

Kosovo Workers Strike for Wage Relief

Kosovo Workers Strike for Wage Relief

Workers demanding relief from inflationary pressure on wages will launch a general strike on Thursday unless the Kosovo government grants public sector workers an emergency wage increase of almost $100 per month. This proposed amount will provide most public sector workers—including doctors and nurses—with an immediate 20 percent increase in lieu of a long-delayed wage law, says the Union of Independent Trade Unions of Kosovo (BSPK).

“It is the [failure of] the wage law that obliges us to go on strike,” says BSPK Chairperson Atdhe Hykolli, who announced that the work stoppage will last until the workers’ plea for relief is met.

According to BSPK, Kosovo’s workers and their families can no longer meet their basic needs due to historic inflation. The country’s inflation rate is inching higher each month, reaching a 14-year high of more than 14 percent in June and it increased again in July.

Escalating costs for food and non-alcoholic beverages, housing and utilities, and transportation are the main driver of inflationary pressure on wages in Kosovo. For the 12 months ending in June this year, the cost of transportation increased more than 30 percent while the cost of food and non-alcoholic beverages increased by more than 17 percent.  From 2003 through 2021, the country’s inflation rate was less than two percent per year. The average public sector worker’s take-home pay of $542 has not increased since 2021.

“The situation for workers in Kosovo is like those in many countries around the world: Rising costs coupled with stagnant wages is simply not sustainable,” says Solidarity Center Southeastern Europe Country Program Director Steven McCloud.

Bangladesh Domestic Workers Stand Up for Their Rights!

Bangladesh Domestic Workers Stand Up for Their Rights!

Demanding the ratification of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 189, Decent Work for Domestic Workers, leaders and members of the National Domestic Women Workers Union (NDWWU) on June 16, 2022, rallied in front of the National Press Club in Bangladesh to mark International Domestic Workers Day.

 

They also demanded the ratification of International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention on violence and harassment in the world of work (ILO C190). A Bangladesh Institute of Labor Studies (BILS) report says 12 domestic workers were raped in 2020.

 

Although Bangladesh presided over the 100th session of the International Labor Conference and voted for ILO C189, the country’s domestic workers still are not protected by the global treaty because the government has yet to ratify it.

 

When Sitara Begum, 60, approached law enforcement after being harassed at her job as a domestic worker they did not assist her, and she was forced to flee from her employer. “In 22 years of working as a house help, I had to endure many such incidents. When does our agony stop?” she asks.

 

Domestic worker Rehana Akter Mita, 37, her family’s only breadwinner, earns $96.59 per month, which does not cover living expenses. Mita often takes loans from relatives to support her son’s education and husband’s medical costs.

 

The 2006 Bangladesh Labor Act does not recognize domestic worker rights. Domestic workers and their unions are urging the government to ratify ILO C189, a global treaty ensuring domestic workers their rights on the job.

Photos: Solidarity Center/Amir Hasan Shahriar

AFL-CIO CALLS FOR RELEASE OF 17 DETAINED BELARUS UNION LEADERS

AFL-CIO CALLS FOR RELEASE OF 17 DETAINED BELARUS UNION LEADERS

In a letter to Belarus Prime Minister Roman Golovchenko and Head of the Administration of the President Igor Sergeyenko, the AFL-CIO condemned the recent detention of 17 trade union leaders who represent their country’s independent labor movement and the shuttering of union offices there.

Calling for an immediate release of all those detained and resumption of the activities of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) and its affiliate unions, the AFL-CIO letter cites “a troubling increase in anti-union harassment” in the country and points to an international labor movement protest against anti-union repression in Belarus.

Those arrested and detained include BKDP President Aleksandr Yarashuk and Vice-President Sergei Antusevich, as well as other activists, independent journalists and legal experts. The offices of the BKDP have been closed, as have the offices of its four affiliated unions.

The government of Belarus has been repeatedly called out by the International Labor Organization (ILO) for its systematic violations of freedom of association and core labor standards.

Read the full letter.

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