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Belarus: Commission of Inquiry vindicates our case

Belarus: "ILO Commission of Inquiry vindicates our case", says ICFTU

Brussels: A 6-month investigation by a UN body has found evidence of severe workers' rights violations in Belarus and its report published today calls on the government to make swift changes and abide without delay to a series of major recommendations. The report by the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) is likely to prompt calls for economic sanctions against President Lukashenko's regime. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) has welcomed the 200-page report and said it was likely to influence the European Union, which is currently examining a complaint lodged by the Brussels-based trade union group and other international and European trade union organisations under the EU's Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).

The ILO report follows the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry set up last November under article 26 of the ILO Constitution to examine implementation by the government of Belarus of ILO Conventions 87 and 98 concerning freedom of association, protection of the right to organise and collective bargaining, after workers delegates' to the International Labour Conference, the annual ILO meeting in Geneva, lodged a formal complaint. An ILO Commission of Inquiry is the strongest measure the ILO can take against a member state and has been used only in exceptionally grave cases, most recently against Burma's ruling military junta.

The ICFTU said the ILO report had "upheld each and every charge laid by the international trade union movement against the government of President Lukashenko". The Commission of Inquiry's report examined several issues in detail, including the registration of independent trade unions, state and employers' interference in trade union affairs, anti-union discrimination and harassment or retaliatory acts against trade unions, as well as legislation affecting trade unions and the issue of social dialogue.

In concluding its highly careful examination of the unions' 2003 complaint, the ILO Commission of Inquiry noted several breaches of internationally-guaranteed trade union rights by Belarus, such as interference at the highest level of government in the granting or denial of trade union registration. During formal hearings held last April In Geneva, the ILO Commission discovered that this process was decided by a "Registration Commission" headed by the Deputy Head of Mr Lukashenko's Presidential Administration, yet government representatives were unable to name any of this Commission's remaining members. The ILO report also established that legal provisions on registration have been "arbitrarily applied not only by registration bodies, but also by the courts, in a manner aimed at eliminating the representation of workers by organisations outside the FPB structure". The FPB is the official, government-controlled trade union structure, headed by Mr Leonid Kozik, himself formerly the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration. The ILO Commission said Mr Kozik had "dismissed each and every claim of interference made, without any apparent attempt to ascertain their validity"'.

Commenting on the arrests of several trade union leaders, the ILO Commission held that they "reflect[ed] the Government's failure to protect the rights of trade unionists ... from discrimination" which, it said was "not only incompatible with, but ... also destructive of freedom of association". Amongst other practices that were similarly incompatible with international labour standards, the Commission noted restrictions on Belarusian trade unions' right to benefit from assistance provided by international trade union organisations. The ILO report also strongly criticised what it called "a significant deficit of the functioning of social dialogue in the country overall".

In its nearly 3-page long set of recommendations, the ILO Commission of Inquiry amongst others included disbanding the above-mentioned Registration Commission, the publication and "wide dissemination without delay" of all its recommendations, as well as "adequate protection or even immunity against administrative detention", which it said "should be guaranteed to trade union officials in the performance of their duties or when exercising their civil liberties".

The ILO Commission also said, "all its recommendations can and should be carried out without further delay" and issued a final deadline of 1 June 2005 for most of its recommendations to be implemented by the government of Belarus. The deadline coincides with the opening of the next session of the ILO's annual Conference and the ICFTU said it would take all relevant action available under the ILO Constitution if Belarus failed to meet it.

"This landmark ILO report not only proves beyond the shadow of doubt that trade union rights are blatantly violated in Belarus", said ICFTU General Secretary Guy Ryder. "It will also strengthen our case in all other international institutions that we have been pressing to force Mr Lukashenko's government to reconsider its attitude towards the country's independent trade unions", he added.

An ICFTU spokesperson expressed the view that the ILO ruling was likely to influence the European Union, which is currently examining a complaint lodged by the ICFTU and other international and European trade union organisations under the EU's Generalised System of Preferences (GSP).

The ICFTU represents over 148 million workers in 234 affiliated organisations in 152 countries and territories. ICFTU is also a member of Global Unions:

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