Belarus Urged to Abolish Timber Industry ‘Serfdom’

MOSCOW, December 28 (RIA Novosti) – Russia’s top union representative on Friday urged Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to allow timber industry workers to quit their job – a right they lost earlier this month.

The ban on resignation is similar to “slavery or serfdom,” Mikhail Shmakov, who heads the pro-Kremlin Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, said in an open letter to Lukashenko.

The ban also violates the 1957 international convention abolishing forced labor to which Belarus is a signatory, the letter noted, also comparing the restriction to Myanmar’s internationally criticized labor laws, and urged him to cancel it.

Lukashenko’s office had not commented as of evening Friday.

The Belarusian president issued a decree in early December prohibiting timber industry workers from resigning without their superiors’ express permission.

The ban is set to last until the modernization program for the industry wraps up in 2013, Lukashenko said. This program already missed its initial deadline of 2012.

The ban affects some 13,000 people, local news website reported last week.

Lukashenko also ordered timber enterprises to raise wages 100 percent to $400-500 a month, news agency reported in late November.

“There’ll be even more talk about dictatorship, bear in mind, with them saying that we ban people from quitting,” Lukashenko warned at the time, apparently anticipating the Myanmar comparison.

The Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, established in 1990, claims to have 25 million members. It is part of the All-Russia People’s Front, created by President Vladimir Putin ahead of the presidential race of 2011.


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