Report of ILO Commission of Inquiry says trade union independence has been undermined in Belarus

According to a report* issued by an ILO Commission of Inquiry, several acts by the Government of Belarus give rise to the conclusion that the Belarus trade union movement has been and continues to be the subject of significant interference on the part of Government authorities.

News | 08 October 2004
The Commission of Inquiry, composed of high-level independent experts, was appointed in November 2003 by the Governing Body of the ILO. It has concluded that the independence of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (the FPB) under its current leadership has been seriously compromised.

The Commission of Inquiry stresses the importance of ensuring full respect for the basic civil liberties of trade union members and leaders. It considers that many of these, in particular the right to freely express one’s opinion, to freely seek and impart information and ideas through the media, and freedom of assembly, have been seriously infringed in Belarus.

The findings of the Commission of Inquiry are contained in its report, published today. The Commission had the mandate to examine the observance by the Republic of Belarus of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98), following a complaint lodged by 14 Worker delegates to the 91st Session of the International Labour Conference in June 2003.

The independent Commission was chaired by Mr. Budislav Vukas, Professor of Public International Law at the University of Zagreb and Vice-President of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and further composed of Mr. Niklas Bruun, Professor of Business Law and of EU Labour Law at the Swedish School of Economics and Business Administration in Helsinki and Ms. Mary Gaudron, former Justice of the High Court of Australia.

In the course of its inquiry, both during formal hearings held in Geneva and throughout its visit to Belarus, the Commission heard testimony from numerous trade union leaders and members concerning the systematic subjugation of Belarus trade unions to State control. For its part, the Government, which cooperated fully with the Commission both at the hearings and through the meetings with Government officials in Minsk, consistently denied any involvement in the Belarusian trade union movement.

In the light of its conclusions, the Commission considers “it crucial that significant steps be taken in the immediate future to permit trade unions that are outside the FPB structure to be able to form their organizations and exercise their activities freely. It is only in such circumstances that freedom of association can be said to exist in Belarus”. Its recommendations include:
• the immediate registration of trade union organizations involved in the complaint and the elimination of all obstacles to the right to organize created by current decrees, rules and regulations;
• guaranteed protection to carry out their activities freely for those organizations that have suffered interference in their internal affairs, in particular the Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, the Radio and Electronics, Automobile and Agricultural Machinery Workers’ Union, the Belarussian Free Trade Union, the Belarussian Independent Trade Union, the Belarussian Trade Union of Air Traffic Controllers, the Democratic Union of Transport Workers and the Free Metal Workers’ Union; and
• the wide dissemination in Belarus of all its conclusions and recommendations without delay.

Several of the Commission’s recommendations concerning legislative and other action carry a deadline of 1 June 2005.

The Commission recalls that free and independent workers’ and employers’ organizations are indispensable partners in economic development and the advancement of social justice and emphasizes that its recommendations “were made with the entire Belarussian society in mind so that free and independent trade unions may take their rightful place as vital players in the social and economic development of the country”.

The Government of Belarus is required under Article 29 of the ILO Constitution to inform the Director-General of the ILO whether or not it accepts the recommendations contained in the report of the Commission of Inquiry. This report and the Government’s reply will be discussed by the Governing Body at its 291st Session in November 2004.

* Trade Union Rights in Belarus. Report of the Commission of Inquiry appointed under Article 26 of the Constitution of the International Labour Organization to examine the observance by the Government of the Republic of Belarus of the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87), and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98). Geneva, 2004. The text is available on the Internet: