Thank you, chairperson.
I am speaking on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.
The Candidate Countries the Republic of North Macedonia[*], Montenegro* and Albania as well as the EFTA country Norway, member of the European Economic Area, align themselves with this statement.
The EU and its Member-States are committed to the promotion of universal ratification of the eight fundamental ILO Conventions and their implementation as part of our Strategic framework on Human rights. Compliance with Convention 29 is essential in this respect.
The EU is committed to support Belarus to take tangible steps to respect universal freedoms, rule of law and human rights including labour rights. In this respect, notwithstanding the fact that the EU has withdrawn tariff preferences from Belarus under its GSP scheme for serious and systematic violations of ILO fundamental Conventions, an active dialogue with Belarus has been engaged in the multilateral context of the Eastern Partnership, as well as bilaterally through the EU-Belarus Coordination Group and the EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue. This dialogue is to be strengthened through the EU-Belarus Partnership Priorities which are currently being negotiated.
Cases of forced labour remain a persistent phenomenon in Belarus. That practice has been denounced in different fora such as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Human Rights Council, which have made several recommendations to eliminate it.
We note with regret that this case is being addressed at CAS for the third time since 2016. In 2016 the CAS had urged the government to constructively engage with the ILO at the highest levels to resolve this issue before the next sitting and to avail itself of ILO’s technical assistance.
We welcome the fact that an ILO mission took place in 2017, that the government has positively engaged with the Office and that some progress has been achieved.
We welcomed the government’s decision to discontinue the implementation of Presidential Decree No. 3 of 2 April 2015. This decree has now been replaced by Presidential Decree No. 1 of 25 January 2018. We took note of the fact that according to the CEACR report, the former levy to finance government expenditure on persons who have not worked for 183 days in a year has been replaced by an obligation for unemployed citizens who are able to work to pay higher prices for various utility services. We believe that further investigation and examination needs to take place to report whether this new system could unduly penalize already vulnerable persons. We would like to request more information from the government on that issue, since, approximately 250.000 persons are targeted by these new provisions. We call on the government to ensure that the implementation of this decree does not go beyond employment promotion and that no excessive penalties are imposed on persons already living in a difficult situation in order to oblige them to perform a work.
We also note in the report that medical labour centres remain an issue in the country in application of Law No. 104-3 of 2010. Indeed, section 16 of this law allows the use of physical force in order to coerce interned persons to perform labour. According to the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, human rights defenders evaluate these medical labour centres as detention or imprisonment outside the framework of criminal prosecution, where medical measures are provided on a purely voluntary basis, while work is imposed as an obligation. Placement in those centres is applied to persons facing administrative charges for having repeatedly disturbed public order under the influence of alcohol and other intoxicating substances but also to people who have committed disciplinary offenses at work under the influence of alcohol or intoxicating substances. It also applies to parents judged "dysfunctional" who have to reimburse State expenditure on the maintenance of their children placed under State care.
Against this background, we would like to request more information from the government on the implementation of law No.104-3, including the number of persons sent to those centres in 2018, the reasons why they were sent and the judicial process leading to those sentences. We also highlight the need for the government to provide medical and psychological support to all persons in need in these centres, as this is critical for their rehabilitation and reintegration at work and in the society.
We welcome Belarus engagement and cooperation with the ILO Office and encourage the government to continue to avail itself of ILO’s assistance to ensure that the provisions and practices previously mentioned do not amount to forced labour.
The EU and its Member States remain committed to their policy of critical engagement with Belarus and will continue supporting the country in meetings its obligations towards full respect of the fundamental International Labour Conventions, including Convention 29.
Thank you, Chair.
The Republic of North Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process.