11. Labor Policies and Practices
Belarus has a highly skilled and well-educated work force, due to its advanced system of higher and specialized education. Wages are lower than in Western Europe, the United States, and even Russia.
Belarus has been a member of the International Labor Organisation (ILO) since 1954 and is a party to almost 50 ILO conventions. In 2004, the ILO made several recommendations regarding workers’ rights to organize and freedom of association. Belarus has not adequately responded to those recommendations by the 2004 ILO Commission of Inquiry.
The Constitution, the Labor Code, and presidential decrees are the main documents regulating the Labor Market in Belarus. Prior to the 1999 Presidential Decree No. 29, the vast majority of the labor contracts in the country were open-ended work agreements. Decree No.29 established a new option to employ workers on 1-5 year-long term contracts and to transfer current employees to these new type contracts. In 2018, almost 90 percent of employees in Belarus were working on term contracts.
The term contract system generally favors the employer. The employer can choose not to renew a contract upon its expiration without giving the employee an explanation. Technically, the employer can also refuse an employee’s proposed resignation before the contract term is up, which would then require the employee to argue their case in court. The employer, on the other hand, can terminate the contract at will. There are several protected employee groups that are exempt from early termination: pregnant women, women with children of up to 3 years old, and single parents with children under 14 years old. Additionally, the employer is obligated to renew contracts with women on maternity leave and with those employees who have reached pre-pension age at the end of their prior contract (53 years for women and 58 for men.)
Severance pay in the case of reduction in force is 13 weeks of salary, and eight weeks’ notice is required for dismissal. Normal work hours in Belarus are eight hours per day and 40 hours per week. Belarusian law is stringent in limiting overtime hours. A non-standard work hour regime is allowed with the condition that the employee is provided with up to seven days of additional annual leave. In general, employees must be granted at least 24 calendar days of paid leave a year.
There are special provisions on employing foreign citizens who have no permanent residence permit. Such citizens have to secure a work permit, which can be usually granted only if an unemployed Belarusian citizen cannot perform the required work. To date, the Embassy has not heard of discriminatory or excessively onerous visa, residence or work permit requirements inhibiting foreign investors, nor of restrictions placed on the numbers or duration of employment of foreign managers brought in to supervise foreign investment projects. In practice, however, few firms employ significant numbers of foreigners, apart from Russian citizens, who benefit from Russia’s and Belarus’ common employment regulations streamlined under the Eurasian Economic Union arrangement of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan.
In July 2000, President Clinton signed a proclamation withdrawing benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) for Belarus. This decision was based on a 1997 American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) petition to the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The petition alleged that Belarus was not acting in accordance with the Trade Act of 1974, as amended, regarding internationally recognized worker rights. These include the freedom to form independent trade unions and the right to organize and bargain collectively. The rights of independent trade unions are often subject to government attack, as documented in the Department of State’s Report on Human Rights Practices for 2018: https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/belarus/
The official unemployment rate in Belarus has been steady in recent years at or just below one percent. Independent analysts claim the unofficial unemployment rate is closer to five percent when taking into account job seekers and unregistered unemployed.