(Feb. 7, 2013) On December 7, 2012, President Lukashenko of Belarus issued a decree entitled “Additional Measures to Develop the Lumber Industry.” (Text [in Russian], President of the Republic of Belarus website (last visited Jan. 23, 2013).) The decree addresses the employment of workers in lumber enterprises. It establishes that:
- All employment contracts concluded between the administrators of enterprises and employees will remain valid during the entire period of the enterprises’ modernization and reconstruction, if there is government investment.
- Workers cannot resign from positions at lumber enterprises if government-sponsored investment projects are being carried out in the company.
- Labor contracts can be terminated and an employee can quit his or her job only if the employer agrees.
- An employer’s refusal to terminate a contract and allow an employee to change employment can be appealed to the head of the provincial government in the region in which the enterprise is located.
- When a contract is terminated for reasons other than at the employer’s initiative, an employee who leaves his or her job must reimburse the employer for a part of the monetary benefits received during the course of employment.
- Under an elaborate judicial procedure, the government can recover the reimbursable funds, and the courts can be involved in making decisions about a former employee’s future work, including the possibility of obligating a person who leaves his/her job in the lumber industry to perform forced labor. (Id. arts. 1.1 – 1.7.)
Both houses of the Belarusian legislature confirmed the presidential decree, with 51 out of 53 members of the upper chamber of the legislature, the Council of the Republic, having voted on December 20, 2012, to take the decree under consideration. As was stated during the parliamentary meeting, “the decree was passed with the purpose of increasing the efficiency of government investments and improving worker discipline.” (Rubinov Did Not Find Elements of Serfdom in Decree No. 9 [in Russian], NAVINY.BY (Dec. 20, 2012).)
Many observers in Belarus commented that the decree violates the Constitution of Belarus, which prohibits forced labor. Some compared the implementation of the decree to serfdom as it existed in the Russian Empire before 1861. (Id.) Belarusian journalists emphasized the similarities between the decree and the Soviet military laws of 1940, which on the eve of World War II introduced criminal responsibility for voluntary changes of employment. (Dmitri Zayats, Belarus Revitalizes Soviet Military Laws [in Russian], NAVINY.BY (Dec. 18, 2012).)
Experts have not yet commented on whether this measure will be extended to other industries. They say that this measure can be attributed to the outflow of the workforce from the production sectors of the national economy, due to the lack of salary growth in those sectors. (Id.)