Belarus: Workers in Yurievo sort grain after a wheat harvest this August. Belarus's Constitution theoretically protects the right of workers to form and join trade unions. But the Trade Union Law of January 2000 and subsequent presidential decrees have created an atmosphere in which independent unions face harassment and their leaders are frequently arrested and prosecuted for peaceful protests. The authorities favor the Belarus Federation of Trade Unions, a pliant holdover entity from the communist era with which the government maintains close ties, and they pressure workers not to join independent unions -- which is easy enough to do because more than 90 percent of Belarusian workers have fixed-term contracts and the government, the major employer in Belarus, can end their employment for any reason when the contract expires. Collective bargaining does not exist, and workers who protest conditions are ignored by the court system.
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