Authorities let a foreign company operate with no OSH certification?

WORKING CONDITIONS

by Raman YERASHENIA

They say Belarusian miners earn a lot, don’t they? True for Salihorsk; however, take some 40 kilometers away from Salihorsk and one will notice a difference.

The neighboring Luban district is hosting a several years’ greenfield construction of the Nezhinski mining and processing plant of the Slavkaliy company. The sinking of mine shafts is done by a German company Deilmann-Haniel GmbH. Their drifters (professionals performing complex work of laying mines – Ed.) are of local as well as of Russian and of German origin.

Photo by mztmk.by: Nezhinski mining and processing plant

All would be good; however local workers, for the most part, instead of decent pay and healthy working conditions receive minimum leave, no additional payments for harmful and dangerous working conditions, low wages, and no additional pension. It seems that they are migrant workers in their own country.

It is natural that this state of the thing did not suit the team of drifters hired by a German company; and they independently appealed to the Slutsk Interdistrict Department of the State Labour Inspectorate for help: “We have been working in the company for about a year. In violation of paragraph 18 of the Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus of 02.22.2008 No. 253 “On the certification of jobs in terms of working conditions” the employer’s order to approve the results of certification of jobs in terms of working conditions has not yet been issued. Accordingly, we have not been granted the right to an additional payment for work with harmful and (or) dangerous working conditions and shortened working hours for working with harmful and (or) dangerous working conditions, and working conditions have not been confirmed that entail the employer’s obligations for professional pension insurance of employees”.

Instead of assistance, the appeal was redirected to the Luban District Executive Committee. Those, in turn, redirected him to the Minsk Regional Executive Committee, which explained why a foreign company operating in Belarus does not comply with local legislation.

According to the chairperson of the committee on labour, employment and social protection of the Minsk Region Executive Committee Aleh Semianchuk, certification of working places in a German company is impossible:

“The company Deilmann-Haniel GmbH (Germany) in which you work is not a legal entity under the laws of the Republic of Belarus. Therefore, it is not possible, in accordance with applicable law, to approve the results of certification of workplaces under working conditions (despite the fact that it has taken certain actions to conduct certification), to provide compensation to employees according to its results, and to bear obligations for professional pension insurance of employees in accordance with the Law of the Republic of Belarus of January 5, 2008 (hereinafter referred to as the PPI Law).”

The official also noted that in order to resolve this issue, additions and changes to regulatory legal acts, as well as to the PPI Law, are required: “For this purpose, the committee prepared a letter to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus”.

We addressed the Association of trade unions the Belarusian Congress of Democratic trade unions for a comment:

- This is a completely peremptory and illegal statement. Based on this letter, this organization did not have the right to hire workers. And if they have this right, then they also have the obligations of the employer in the Republic of Belarus in full, – commented the response of the regional executive committee, BKDP lawyer Alena Yeskova (pictured).

– The Labour Code and other legislative acts state that a legal entity, a Belarusian, for example, may have separate units. These can be branches, representative offices that are not legal entities, but have the right to employ and dismiss employees, and must they comply with all their rights. Including those in relation to certification of workplaces. According to the logic of that answer, this company is not an employer and thus it illegally hired employees. This company cannot hire employees if they have not received special permission, and they received it, which is natural. Therefore, they must act fully and in accordance with Belarusian law.

Will these changes be made to regulations and legislation? What should employees do? Wait a few years? Indeed, in a few years the greenfield project is over! Maybe Belarusian officials are counting on this? Given so many questions with no answers, people appealed to the Belarusian Independent trade union.

- This whole situation has outraged people, and the fact of exploitation of Belarusian workers with the aim of enriching specific individuals is also evident. Less vacation, more working day, less pay, fewer workers can be hired, respectively, more profit to the employer, – says the chairperson of BITU Maksim Pazniakou (pictured). 

The chairperson of the Independent Trade Union and the two vice-chairs met the director of the company on November 5.

- We decided to get to know the head of Deilmann-Haniel GmbH to understand what the matter was. Why  certification of jobs was not carried out? Herr Holger Hertel, as a typical manager of a private company, denied his guilt in every possible way. He said that he fulfills the necessary minimum  and that they are not required to conduct certification, – says the chairperson of BITU.

The trade union leader noted that the management of the company made it clear in every way that they did not perceive the union as the organization of workers, and that they were only interested in the organization of work and the deadlines for putting the object into operation.

- We are outraged with this state of the thing; and our task now is to make our national legislation work at enterprises regardless of the form of the property. The state is obliged to protect the workers’ rights, its citizens’ interests. That is why we are going to ensure that the certification of the work places is done at this enterprise; that the workers get all the additional guarantees and compensations granted by law, - says Maksim Pazniakou.

WHAT’S THE UNION GOING TO DO?

To date, an appeal has been prepared and sent from the Belarusian Independent Trade Union to the district prosecutor’s office with a request to conduct an audit and make an opinion on the legality of not attesting work places by the employer.

In addition, an appeal was prepared and sent to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Republic of Belarus with the requirement to pay close attention to this situation and to the fact that Belarusian workers should not be slaves in their country.

- These are our members; and we will seek to enforce the law in relation to them, – promises the leader of BITU.

 DEILMANN-HANIEL GMBH at glance

On July 7, 2017 in Minsk, Deilmann-Haniel GmbH signed a contract worth over 200 million euros with foreign limited liability company Slavkali for sinking mine shafts of the Nezhinski mining and processing plant. The project is planned to be implemented by the Belarusian subsidiary Deilmann-Haniel Belshachtostroij. The contract is concluded for a period of 5 years.

Deilmann-Haniel GmbH is among world leaders of shaft sinking companies servicing both mining and tunneling industries. For its 130 years history the company have sunk over 500 shafts. Deilmann-Haniel “…has been pursuing the aim of working on schedule, costs and quality for the customers. The only way we are able to do this is through our talented team of people who bring a wealth of industry knowledge, skill, and experience to the table,” – says the company website.