ILO Calls for Release of Belarusian Trade Union Leaders, Welcomes China’s Move to Ratify 2 Forced Labour Conventions


THE Director General of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Mr Guy Ryder, has expressed deep concern over reports of the arrests of trade union leaders in Belarus and has called for a halt to the intimidation of those peacefully exercising their freedom of association rights in the country.

The arrests are reported to have been made as officials of the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus searched trade union offices and their leaders’ homes, seizing computers, personal documents, passports, union flags, leaflets and other items.

Those arrested include Alexander Yaroshuk, President of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP), who is also vice-president of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and a member of the ILO Governing Body; Siarhei Antusevich, BKDP Vice-President; Oleg Podolinski, BKDP International Secretary, and Elena Yeskova the Unions’ lawyer. Mikola Sharakh, Chairperson of the Belarusian Free Trade Union, was also arrested on his way to a court hearing. There are reports that more than a dozen other trade union leaders have also been arrested.

The arrest, even briefly, of trade union leaders for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of association constitutes a grave violation of the principles of freedom of association. Trade union rights lose all meaning in the absence of full and meaningful respect for those civil liberties enunciated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in particular the right to freedom and security of the individual, freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly, the right to a fair trial and the right to protection of trade union property.

The Director-General calls on the responsible Belarusian authorities to immediately release the trade union leaders and any others still detained, and to take all necessary measures to ensure that they can carry out their trade union activities in a climate free from violence, intimidation, or threat of any kind.

Belarus has ratified all eight ILO Fundamental Conventions, including the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention, 1948 (No. 87) , and Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention, 1949 (No. 98) .

…welcomes China’s move to ratify 2 Forced Labour Conventions

Meanwhile the ILO has welcomed the decision by the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China to approve the ratification of the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29)  and the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, 1957 (No. 105) .

Ratification of these two instruments, which are classified as Fundamental Conventions, will bring the total number of ILO Conventions ratified by China  to 28, including six of the eight Fundamental Conventions.

By approving these ratifications, China reinforces its commitment to eliminate all forms of forced labour within its jurisdiction, realize work in freedom for its 1.4 billion people, and respect the ILO’s fundamental principles and rights at work.

Convention No. 29 prohibits the use of forced labour in all its forms and requires State parties to make forced labour practices punishable as penal offences. This instrument is supplemented by Convention No. 105, which specifically calls for the immediate abolition of forced or compulsory labour in five specific circumstances listed in its article 1. These Conventions will enter into force in China one year after their instruments of ratification are deposited with the ILO.

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder, said “I welcome the ratification by China of these two ILO Fundamental Conventions on forced labour. The move demonstrates China’s strong support for ILO values and reflects its commitment to protect any female or male workers from being trapped into forced labour practices, which have no place nor justification in today’s world. This is a milestone on the road towards universal ratification of the forced labour Conventions and the realization of Sustainable Development Goal 8, Target 7 .”

“I expect theses ratifications to create renewed momentum and further efforts by the government and the social partners in China to support human-centred development and decent work in the second largest economy in the world, in line with the ILO Centenary Declaration on the Future of Work .”

The ILO stands ready to further its collaboration with China’s government and social partners for the full implementation of these two Conventions and the full realization of principles under the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.

According to the latest global estimates , about 25 million people globally are forced to work under threat or coercion. Many other workers, who were hard hit by the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, have become more vulnerable to being trapped into forced labour.

There are eight ILO Fundamental Conventions  covering four core principles: forced labour, child labour, discrimination, and freedom of association and collective bargaining. All ILO Member States are expected to respect and promote these principles and rights, regardless of whether or not they have ratified the relevant Conventions.


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