During the pandemic, Belarusians working in other countries turned out to be one of the most vulnerable categories. During this period, the number of appeals to La Strada Program on the difficult situations and violations committed by foreign employers has grown 3 times.
La Strada Program is a project on safe migration and combating human trafficking. “According to the up-to-date hotline statistics, around 80% of all requests related to crisis situations abroad constitutes the appeals of our citizens who have faced labor rights violations by unscrupulous employers. Most of these appeals are connected to Poland - 59% and Lithuania - 32%, there have also been cases in the Czech Republic, Russia, and Lebanon” - says Elena Nesteruk, Head of La Strada Belarus Programme.
According to the expert, the restrictive measures introduced by many countries to prevent the further spread of coronavirus have had a significant negative impact on the economy and the labor market. “Closed borders, the shutdown of large companies, enterprises and small businesses - those affected the entire population, but some categories appeared to be the most vulnerable. Among them were labor migrants, especially those who worked in low-paid jobs. Many of them lost their income and faced difficulties covering housing and food costs. Being in a vulnerable situation, trying to survive in difficult conditions, such people can become victims of labor exploitation” - says Elena Nesteruk. – “We are aware that COVID-19 situation has complicated life in many business areas, but we believe that the employers shouldn’t solve all the problems at the expense of their employees. To stay afloat, employers are using coping strategies with various economic and financial consequences, however the strategies are not always fair. As we can see, the surge in complaints related to violation of workers’ labor rights is also recorded by labor inspectorates in many countries.
Despite the difficult situation due to the pandemic, the employer does not have the right to violate labor laws, for example, not paying salaries, demanding dismissal without legal grounds, exerting pressure on the employee to terminate the contract or send him on unpaid leave and the like", - emphasizes the Head of La Strada Belarus Program.
“Our clients are facing with pressure and blackmailing by employers, who demand to terminate the contract, supposedly at their own risk, threatening that the employee will not receive wages for the previous period until he signs the papers. People who agree under pressure, because they have nothing to pay for housing, food, and finally sign the documents, may find themselves in a very difficult situation, sometimes critical. Some Belarusians wrote to us like this: they did not pay me salaries - there is no money even to return home” - says Elena Nesteruk.
Professional lawyers who work at La Strada hotline assist victims in compiling appeals to labor inspectorates and prosecution authorities in Poland, the Russian Federation, and Lithuania. If necessary, we connect partner international and local organizations in different countries across the world to solve the problems.
Today we have substantially upgraded our online consulting service. We expanded the possibilities of contacting us through popular messengers - Viber and Telegram. You can write to us through social networks. Chat is available on our site www.lastrada.by, where you can chat with our consultants online and discuss an algorithm for solving various problems that our migrants may face.
Understanding that the number of labor migrants who have faced labour rights violations is large, La Strada Belarus in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration, with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Norway, launches an information campaign to support this category of citizens, whose vulnerability significantly increased during the pandemic. As a part of the campaign, it is planned to create special information materials, videoson protecting rights and the possibilities of obtaining assistance for Belarusians who work abroad and for citizens of other countries working in our country.
The La Strada Program is a project on safe migration and combating trafficking in human beings, which is implemented in Belarus by "Social Changes". The organization is a full member of the international association “La Strada International” (La Strada International), which includes 29 organizations from 24 European countries.