Top 10 Civic Actions in Belarus in 2014 Acording to Pact
With the 2015 approaching fast, international NGO Pact identified the most notable items in Belarus’ civil society life in 2014. For the second straight year Pact acknowledged top 10 civic actions in Belarus.
Belarus`s civil society is growing and going somewhere, only we are not sure about the direction yet.
Trend of the Year: Belarusization
Belarusian language free courses have become a new hit in 2014. Mova Nanova (Language in a New Way) has spread to eight Belarusian cities with about 1,000 students and got state registration. The largest Belarus web portal TUT.by launched free Belarusian lessons.
The courses titled as Movaveda attracted a public attention due to their promotional videos based on the known movies. In September, Minsk hosted a first-ever Belarusian-language sports festival Mova Cup organized by stars of Belarusian sports.
Belarus’ top leadership, including president Alexander Lukashenka and prime minister Mikhail Myasnikovich spoke Belarusian in public. In addition, “mass” enthusiasm was shown for national embroidered shirt/vyshyvanka in Belarus. Several companies offer both authentic costumes and modern fashionable clothes with elements of national ornament.
Two Vyshyvanka Days – on October 5 and December 13 – were held as a Festival of national culture and gathered up to 5 thousand people. This year the central October Square in Minsk is decorated with New Year Tree in traditional style with embroidery ornaments.
Event of the Year: Kastryčnicky Economic Forum (KEF)
On November 5, 2014 KEF gathered about 160 Belarusian and international experts for professional dialogue on Belarus’ private sector potential. The annual economic forum was opened by the Minister of Economy Mikalai Snapkou and attended by leadership of World Bank in Belarus, Moody’s Investors Service, IFC Belarus Office among others. KEF is organised for the second time by the Research Center of the Institute for Privatization and Management in association with the Belarus Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC) and CASE Belarus.
Local Fundraising of the Year: MaeSens project
Tree time in row Pact sees the MaeSens project as the most successful local fundraising initiative. The main reason is in its stability: launched in October 2011, a social Internet platform MaeSens.by has collected to the moment about $320 thousand of private donations for charity. Moreover, MaeSens continues to organize a contest of grassroots ideas Social Weekend. The recent Social Weekend-4 gathered more than 200 applications; nine of them received financial support from local business.
Lobbying of the Year: Antimak campaign
On January 15, 2014, president Alexander Lukashenka signed a decree ‘On certain issues regarding state regulation of poppy seeds turnover’. According to Alexander Shpakouski, the Aktualnaja Konseptsiya non-profit institution leader, the decree “practically liquidates conditions for organization of drug business on poppy seeds materials in Belarus”. After more than three year of the Antimak public campaign, adoption of the above decree is the major indicator of its success.
Award of the Year: Via Bona CSR Award
The first ever award in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Belarus was established by Fond of Ideas. In March 2014, the best CSR projects of Belarusian business were awarded in seven categories, for example, the mobile company Velcom got the prize for the best cooperation with the local community (the project VELOCITY).
Community Initiative of the Year: Local Hrushauka Festival
In May 2014, the first ever local community Festival was organized in Hrushauka Minsk district. The event was initiated by a single activist, joined by some organized groups and gathered up to 1,000 local residents. Most notably, Hrushauka Fest was fully self-funded and inspired a number of similar initiatives in Minsk (similar Fests were planned in Uruchcha, Malinovka and Slepyanka city districts) and across the country.
Monitoring of the Year: Barrier-free environment of IIHF World Championship
Before the start of the IIHF World Championship in Minsk, the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities held an accessibility monitoring of facilities of IIHF World Championship 2014 in Minsk. The monitoring studied about 50 different facilities including railway stations, sports complexes, hotels, shops and other places of the service sector and concluded their unsatisfactory degree of accessibility.
Survey of the Year: BISS poll on attitude to reforms
The Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) public poll under the REFORUM project reveals the general attitude of ordinary citizens as well as representatives of civil society and political opposition to reforms and identifying high-priority areas. Thus, 75.6% of Belarusians consider reforms necessary and wants reforms in health sector while representatives of civil society believe the key area of reform a political system.
Education Program of the Year: Golden Age University in Grodno
Golden Age University was voted as such at the 5th Festival of Non-Formal Festival in December 2014. According to the people’s voting and professional jury decision, the Grodno-based Golden Age University (GAU) was recognized the best educational event. Starting from 2010, GAU is improving the quality of life of Grodno elderly by increasing their participation in different fields of life and creating conditions for them to contribute to both civil society and local community.
AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT:
The film ‘Abel’ financed by the Ministry of Culture includes the reconstruction of political events of the presidential elections in Belarus in 2010. While filming the Ploscha events of December 2010, the actors of mass scenes shouted slogans ‘We are not satisfied’ and ‘Something's wrong (in Russian – «Что-то не так!»). Actually, there were no such slogans at the true Ploscha of December 19, 2010 which anniversary is marked these days.
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).