Lukashenka’s Decree No. 5: A New Blow to Belarusian Workers
On 15 December 2014, Belarusian President Lukashenka signed decree No. 5 "On Strengthening the Requirements for Managers and Employees of Organisations".
The decree comes as an unpleasant New Year's gift for working people and the latest step in a general crackdown on employees's rights in Belarus, from common workers to managers, directors and civil servants.
Two previous decrees clearly illustrate this ongoing trend. First, decree No. 29 "On Additional Measures to Improve Labour Relations and Strengthen Labour and Performance Discipline" adopted in 1999. It marked the broadest introduction of fixed-term contracts into Belarusian employment relations.
Using such contracts, employers can dismiss practically any employee without having to give any justification. This approach clearly contradicts the Termination of Employment Convention (No. 158).
Second is decree No. 9 "On Additional Measures to Develop the Wood Processing Industry" adopted in 2012 clearly breached the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105). The decree prohibited termination of employment contracts at employees' own request until after the completion of reconstruction of enterprises that are publicly funded. Within Belarus's borders, similar things have occurred only during serfdom in the Tsarist era and in the Soviet-Stalinist era because of World War II.
Not in the Light but in the Darkness
Lukashenka has deliberately introduced such measures, unpopular among the public, through personal decrees and edicts which are adopted without any public scrutiny or discussion. He avoids adopting laws since their adoption involves democratic procedures and instead just issues decrees.
As a result, the decrees contain many inconsistencies. As the head of the working group which developed the Labour Code of Belarus, I note that today, these and other presidential acts breach the Code to the degree that it is the right time to start developing a new code altogether.
Resolving the conflicts between rules of the Labour Code and decrees, Belarusian judges have always given the preference to a decree over a law as the president appoints almost all of them, starting at the district level.
Decree No. 5 contains a number of provisions, which create significant disadvantages for both employees and managers of organisations even when it is compared with the current Labour Code.
For example, the decree has introduced new disciplinary actions, stipulated further grounds for dismissal and suspension from work, expanded the grounds for early employer-initiated termination of contracts, and continues to infringe on trade unions' rights.
It has also introduced a prohibition on employing individuals in senior managerial positions who were dismissed from their job earlier for a labour discipline violation over a period of five years. This article will briefly describe some other most odious provisions.
Decree No. 5 has also introduced the term "discrediting circumstances of dismissal", which has no precedent in Belarusian labour law. Under these "discrediting circumstances", employment contracts may be terminated prior to their expiration. The decree establishes over 50 types of these circumstances.
This list includes serious and minor breaches, including rather awkward breaches which have little in common with labour relations. For example, a breach of safety rules which lead to injury or death of other employees, absence at one's place of work for over three hours without a legitimate reason can lead to sending an employee to a labour therapy centre.
Moreover, the documents containing "discrediting evidence" must be kept for at least five years. It is clear that they will constitute one of the components of these reference letters, which will create a legal consequence for a decision on whether to employ an individual. Thus, an employee becomes "branded" for a substantial period of time – five years.
In Russian, the word "discrediting" means the erosion of trust of someone and the impairment of someone's credibility. It follows that this erosion of trust and impairment of credibility are an infringement upon the honour and dignity of workers. Article 28 of the Constitution of Belarus and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 12) provide protection from this kind of infringement.
Regardless of Ownership
The decree has repeatedly emphasised that it applies to both public and private organisations.
For example, if an owner of a private business fails to enforce proper labour discipline as understood by the decree, he will become the subject of severe penalties provided by the decree to the fullest extent. It may include dismissal from his own company.
Naturally, government inspectors will be the ones assessing the state of this discipline by their internal standards. For example, imagine an employer who has refrained from firing a store clerk in a summer vegetable pavilion for one day of truancy as the latter promised not to commit the same folly again and it was not possible to find a replacement for them in short order.
However, for the officials the most important thing is their non-compliance with the decree and not the interest of an entrepreneur who risks his property: in other words, there has been a gross violation in the form of a truancy but no dismissal. This means the manager will be punished.
Thus, the decree has authorised massive government interference in the internal economic functioning of private businesses, primarily concerning issues of hiring and firing staff.
We Do Not Need This Kind of Working People
If the nationwide system of harsh legal, psychological, administrative and other threats and prosecution briefly described above was actually fully implemented, it would mean that someone is to blame for the latest crisis in Belarus. Lukashenka has spoken about it repeatedly on television.
Taking into account that this system applies without exception to all employees both in the public and private sector, as well as horizontally and vertically. The conclusion forced upon everyone is as follows: the working people as a whole are to blame. It does not really matter whether the working people violated the dictated discipline or will violate in the future – everyone can be easily accused of it under the new system.
Such indolent people must be replaced. The decree has created additional conditions for this, which induces fear of losing one's job at any moment and, as a consequence, is really an issue of subsistence for employees and their families.
The regulations simply force workers to flee to other countries in the hope of finding a more respectful attitude to the application of their abilities, skills and experience. It is clear that, as a rule, only the best and brightest skilled factory and office workers, managers, engineers, researchers, etc. will be able to emigrate abroad.
"Guest workers", migrants and refugees will take their place in creating a new labour force with the remaining intimidated working population. With them, the country's leaders will try to bring it out of a crisis.
Victor Kryvoi, LLD
Former Head of the Legal Department of the Secretariat of the Belarusian Parliament (1997) and of the Commission on Labour and Social Policy of the Supreme Soviet of Belarus (1994 – 1996).
Hunting Tourism and Corruption in Belarus
Since the end of the 2000s, Belarus has become a destination for many hunt lovers from abroad. 40% of Belarus is covered with woods, which remain a natural habitat for many species of animals. Today, booking a hunting expedition in Belarus can be made online with a couple of clicks.
Many Belarusians still prefer poaching, unwilling to stick to strict rules of legal hunting, even despite constantly growing penalties and fines. An extraordinary case of poaching occurred this past December, when the Belarusian KGB arrested a group of ten hunters in the Chernobyl zone of the Homel region. Strikingly, the officials of wildlife protection agency and police were among them. The group illegally killed four elk.
Corruption among low-level forestry employees remains widespread, as they try to supplement their low wages with additional cash. To protect its rich wildlife heritage, Belarus needs to improve its state system of nature management.
Hunting Tourism on the Rise in Belarus
Unlike most of Europe, Belarus has retained much of its ancient forests, which occupy almost 40% of Belarus’ territory. Up to the present day they remain a natural habitat for many species of animals and birds, most of them free to hunt during specific seasons. However, in the 1990s and 2000s Belarus as a hunting destination was little known abroad.
Today, it seems, Belarus is becoming a favourite hunting spot for many individuals. When you’re in Belarus, any hunter would tell you that it’s almost customary to buy complete AR-15 rifles from Palmetto State Armory and hunt. As one online advertisement says, “the most luring feature is the complete authenticity of the wild animals, inhabiting the forests, swamps and fields of Belarus”.
One can book of a few days’ hunt in Belarus through numerous web sites. They provide information on prices, animal species and the various hunting seasons, as well as a list of necessary documents and procedures for foreigners. They also display photos of previous successful hunting trips to attract new customers.
Hunting companies typically offer 3 days of hunting for around €1,000. The price usually includes permission to bring one’s own firearm, accommodation and meals, a hunting licence and transport from the airport to the hunting spot, an interpreter and accompanying hunters. Some firms include additional services like alcohol, sauna and trophy preparation.
As for animals, visiting hunters can choose between big game like European bison (prices starting from €10,000), wild boar (€100-600), elk (€700-4,500) or red deer (€700-3,500). The prices depend on the animal’s size, horns and other specific factors. Alternatively, one can go for small game ranging from €10 for partridge, waterfowl or woodcock, to capercaillie for €500.
But not all citizens are ready to pay these kinds of prices for a traditional male occupation. Poaching remains a widespread activity for many Belarusians, especially in rural areas. Corruption thrives, as both local people and local power holders often make deals with forestry workers.
Poaching Bisons in Belarus
In 2013 Lukashenka said he was surprised with the amount of hunting tackle seized from poachers – one thousand rifles, 300 kilometres of fishing net, dozens of tonnes of meat and fish. In 2014 the authorities raised fines for poaching, but so far it is unclear whether this move will lead to a decline in illegal hunting.
Hunting bison, one of the symbols of Belarus, usually receives the most attention in the media. According to Belarusian legislation, bison are divided into two categories – the main gene pool and the reserve gene pool. The animals from the latter pool – usually old or ill – are not considered as listed in the Red Book (list of endangered species), and can be hunted according to a certain procedure.
Environmentalists oppose such norms, saying rare species should be protected regardless of their health or age. But Belarus officials have another rationale – the population of bison is growing and it needs to be regulated.
Belarusians cannot afford bison hunting, as it costs several thousand euro, so the main clients usually come from abroad.
In recent years bison hunting involved many illegal cases. Usually, illegal schemes come from forestry officials, who make money by providing their hunting services for foreign tourists. In winter 2012, a Russian citizen killed a bison and wounded another one in the Valožyn district, while citizens of Lithuania killed three in the Chojniki district.
The guilty forester received only minor punishment for their transgressions. Earlier in 2009 an Italian killed a female bison at the Belaviežskaja Pušča national reserve, where hunting is forbidden. As it turned out, a local forester assisted him in getting to the protected area.
In 2011, the Presidential Property Management Department put a bison’s life up for an Internet auction, which caused a public uproar and an online campaign to save his life and forbid this practise from continuining. Plenty of people made fake bids in an attempt to prolong the life of the animal while the owners of the lot checked the identity of the bidder. In the end ,the campaign wrecked the lot and these kinds of bids have not again appeared in public.
While poaching on the side of citizens is still widespread, some cases of government officials involved in this illegal activity have also become public. One of the most striking instances occurred recently, when a nature protection servicemen worked in contradiction of their official duties.
Wildlife Protectors Killing Wildlife
At the beginning of December the Belarusian authorities informed the public of a quite a paradoxical corruption case. Officials from the nation’s wildlife protection agency were engaged in illegal hunting together with several police companions as additional cover. The group was poaching in the Vetka district of the Chernobyl area. Two of them were officials from the Homiel Regional Inspection for the Protection of Wildlife and the other five were officers from the Homiel Regional Police Department.
The group was supposed to eliminate wild boars as a part of programme to combat African swine flue. Instead, the group killed four elk. The poachers moved in a car with gangster-style registration plate with the word “Serega”, the name of the owner, instead of the officially required numbers.
The car owner’s son turned out to be the deputy head of Homel Regional Inspection for the Protection of Wildlife. During their detention of the poachers, KGB officers even had to resort to pulling out weapons to stop the car.
The locals say that the poachers organised a hunting business in the area together with a Russia citizen who lives in a bordering town. The men hunted animals illegally and then sold the meat to local people. Now they have been fired from service and face up to four years in prison.
By strange coincidence, the same month on 29 December a senor Belarusian official himself became a victim of hunting. The judge of the Supreme Court of Belarus Victar Rakicki received fatal wounds from some of his hunting colleagues, “residents of the Minsk region”, as the Investigatory Committee reports.
Belarus retains its rich flora and fauna, and preserving it should be one of the government’s strategic goals. The authorities should control the local level of wildlife management more thoroughly, as most corruption cases occur there. Besides this, environmental groups from civil society should gain access to policymaking and oversight to help strengthen the public’s engagement with this important issue.