UN Committee: Belarus should abolish forced labour

Press release
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Belarus should abolish compulsory labour and ensure adequate protection of workers. This, among other important recommendations, was put forward by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) following its review of Belarus in November 2013.

The UN Conclusions reflect key issues and recommendations raised in the joint FIDH and Human Rights Centra ’Viasna’ report “Forced labour and pervasive violations of workers’ rights in Belarus”. They provide a long-awaited assessment of the rhetoric espoused by the authorities in Belarus, who persistently present the country as ’the last remaining social paradise in Europe’.

Along with pervasive violations of political and civil rights, the Belarusian government persistently violates the social and economic rights of its citizens, in law and in practice, said Valiantsin Stefanovic, Vice-Chairman of the HRC ’Viasna’. What is more, these citizens have no possibility of protesting against these widespread violations, due to state-controlled trade unions and the prevailing lack of judicial independence, he added.

The UN Committee urges Belarus to abolish compulsory labour for drug and alcohol-dependent persons deprived of their liberty in so-called “Medical-Labour Centres”. Belarus should replace its punitive approach towards persons requiring treatment with a human rights-based approach, where they are provided healthcare and support. Belarus should ensure the right of persons to freely choose or accept work and to work in just and favourable conditions.

The UN Committee also urges Belarus to “abolish compulsory labour as a punitive measure for parents who have had their parental rights removed”.

Moreover, the Committee raised the issue of short-term and fixed-term employment contracts that create job insecurity. Belarus should review the prevailing contract system in order to protect workers against arbitrary non-renewal of contracts.

The recommendations also pinpoint the Presidential Decree no. 9 “On Additional Measures to Develop the Woodworking Industry”, which effectively denies workers the right to freely leave their jobs: should they decide to do so, they risk fines and other financial sanctions. The Committee stresses that Belarus must ensure these workers the right to terminate contracts at their own initiative.

The Committee further emphasizes that Belarus must ensure that workers “have the right to join trade unions of their choice” and “enjoy their trade union rights without undue restrictions and interference”. Currently trade union activities are widely restricted in Belarus.

FIDH and HRC “Viasna” welcome the conclusions and recommend that the Committee also closely follows other important issues analysed in the report: namely, subbotniks (a system of organised, unpaid labour on weekends ’for the good of society’), compulsory labour in the penal system and the army and the compulsory assignment of university graduates.

For more details please consult the report “Forced labour and pervasive violations of workers’ rights in Belarus”

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