Minsk aspires that western capitals soften criticism of human rights situation
Minsk has demonstrated its willingness to the international community to improve the human rights situation in order to preserve the pace of normalisation with western capitals. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities are attempting to seize the initiative from the third sector in order to neutralize criticism of the human rights situation. Nevertheless, the Belarusian government seeks to remove the most sensitive issues, including abolishing the death penalty and expanding political freedoms, from the agenda.
As designated by the president, the National Human Rights Action Plan has been developed and approved in Belarus.
Previously, Minsk ignored the criticism from international organizations regarding the human rights situation in the country and insisted on the absence of significant problems in this sphere. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities have decided to step up cooperation with international organisations to mitigate the criticism of the most sensitive issues, such as - the abolition of the death penalty, political persecution, freedom of speech, assembly, and association, reform of the electoral law, and disappeared politicians in 1999- 2000s.
The Belarusian authorities consider that adopting such a plan is already a sufficient concession to the international community. Minsk is attempting to divert the international criticism of the human rights situation to more acceptable issues, including human trafficking, gender equality, the right to education, the rights of children and the disabled. In addition, the Belarusian leadership has left ample room for manoeuvre and has not assumed specific commitments to implement these measures in the Plan.
That said, the Belarusian authorities are committed not to have political prisoners recognized by the international human rights community. For instance, the sentence to blogger Eduard Palchis without imprisonment evidences such an effort.
In addition, Minsk regards the abolition or a moratorium on the death penalty as a major asset in the political bargaining with the West. The Belarusian authorities would like to ‘sell’ the moratorium on the death penalty for more concessions from Western capitals.
Under the pressure from the outside, the Belarusian authorities are becoming more inclusive with regard to independent human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations and formally include them in the internal dialogue on human rights. Apparently, the Belarusian government aims to depoliticise the work of independent human rights defenders and to focus their attention on less sensitive topics.
The Belarusian leadership has left a wide room for manoeuvre in implementing the recommendations of international critics in the field of human rights, which will depend on how relations with western capitals develop.
The rapid increase in wages has led to a decline in the ratio between labour productivity and real wages to one. Previously, the rule was that enterprises, in which the state owned more than 50% of shares in the founding capital, were not allowed increasing salaries if this ratio was equal to or less than one. The authorities are unlikely to be able to meet the wage growth requirement without long-term consequences for the economy. Hence, the government is likely to contain wage growth for the sake of economic growth.
According to Belstat, In January – August 2017, GDP growth was 1.6%. The economic revival has led to an increase in wages. In August, the average monthly wage was BYN 844.4 or USD 435, i.e. grew by 6.6% since early 2017, adjusted for inflation. This has reduced the ratio between labour productivity and real wages from 1.03 in January 2017 to 1 in the first seven months of 2017. This parameter should not be less than 1, otherwise, the economy starts accumulating imbalances.
The need for faster growth in labour productivity over wage growth was stated in Decree No 744 of July 31st, 2014. The decree enabled wages growth at state organizations and organizations with more than 50% of state-owned shares only if the ratio between growth in labour productivity and wages was higher than 1. Taking into account the state's share in the economy, this rule has had impact on most of the country's key enterprises. In 2013 -2014 wages grew rapidly, which resulted in devaluation in 2014-2015.
Faster wage growth as compared with growth in labour productivity carries a number of risks. Enterprises increase cost of wages, which subsequently leads to a decrease in the competitiveness of products on the domestic and foreign markets. In construction, wholesale, retail trade, and some other industries the growth rate of prime cost in 2017 outpaces the dynamics of revenue growth. This is likely to lead to a decrease in profits and a decrease in investments for further development. Amid wage growth, the population is likely to increase import consumption and reduce currency sales, which would reduce the National Bank's ability to repay foreign and domestic liabilities.
The Belarusian government is facing a dilemma – either to comply with the president’s requirement of a BYN 1000 monthly wage, which could lead to new economic imbalances and could further affect the national currency value, or to suspend the wage growth in order to retain the achieved economic results. That said, the first option bears a greater number of negative consequences for the nomenclature.
Overall, the rapid growth in wages no longer corresponds the pace of economic development. The government is likely to retain the economic growth and retrain further growth in wages. Staff reshuffles are unlikely to follow the failure to meet the wage growth requirement.