BELARUS Convention No 29 105 ILC, 2016, CAS
Ms Anna WOLAŃSKA, NSZZ „Solidarnosc”, Poland

Madam Chair, Dear Delegates,

According to the World Bank, recession in Russia and low commodity prices caused the Belarusian economy to contract sharply in 2015. The country is also facing the demographic problems: the number of able-bodied population decreases, which results in the lack of labour force and pressure on social system, especially pensions and healthcare. During the years in 2000s, when economy boosted due to high Russian subsidies, the regime tolerated the shadow activity of the citizens in exchange for political loyalty. But as economic situation worsened in recent years, the government seeks new sources of filling the budget.

About 500 000 Belarusians, so called “spongers”, either do not work at all, or do not work officially according to the governmental data. This equals to more than 10% of the population able to work. They use free education, healthcare and pay reduced price for public services, but do not contribute to the state budget. According to the World Bank, Belarus has one of the largest shadow economies among the post-communist countries. At the same time, many Belarusians leave the country for better-paid jobs abroad, mainly to Russia. The result is a lack of skilled workers in some industries in Belarus.

President Lukashenka said: “It is high time to stop the sponging! In the name of revolution 400,000 of Belarusians must be involved in work!” and ordered to start the implementation of new policies from 2015. As the effect of these new policies forced labor is widespread in Belarus, in various sectors and forms and several groups of citizens are targeted under the new law, mainly spongers, but not only. Some examples have been already mentiodned by my colleagues. their work.

Since 70 % of the Belarusian economy is still state-owned, all the more this is the state responsibility to guarantee workers decent and safe working conditions, wages and protection. The International Labour Organisation defines forced labour as all involuntary work or service exacted under the menace of a penalty. But how the government can punish perpetrator, if main offender is the state itself? The solution seems to be simple: respecting human and workers rights and international labour standards. Then penalty will not be necessary and discussion on the case of Belarus will be pointless.

Belarus can improve its budget not by practicing forced labour, but by introducing adequate employment politics and programmes. Only if people will are able to work in a friendly environment, they can pay taxes and it will be possible to increase economic growth and therefore shadow economy can be significantly lower. Forced labour is not a solution, and work and people are not commodity.

And my last comment. The government of Belarus just before the Conference gave its workers a gift - annulled Presidential Decree No. 9. It seems that permanent discussion on Belarus brings almost every time tiny improvement in the situation of workers. Keep continuing.