Belarus’ social stability costs amid raising salaries
On August 8th, Electronic Industry Trade Union leaders said that some workers at the Minsk-based ‘Transistor’ Semiconductors and Integrated Circuits Plant refused to work because of low wages (BYR 2.3 - 2.5 million).
Social stability at Belarus’ enterprises is relative and depends on the government’s ability to raise pays and to pay worker’s wages in time. The likelihood of strikes increases, when pay-rises slow down or when wages substantially lag behind the average wage in the country.
By mid-2013 the authorities face a serious problem: the population expects pay rises while it becomes increasingly difficult to find economic justification for it. In Q1-Q2 2013 the average real wage in Belarus increased by 20.5%, while the average monthly salary in Belarus in June was BYR 5,160,000 (circa USD 580). At the same time, consumer price inflation was 8% and labour productivity in GDP - 2.6%.
Such economic imbalance sooner or later had to force the authorities to take the action, and they found the simplest solution – to limit wage growth in the near future. In particular, Prime Minister Myasnikovich has already suggested to project real wage growth for 2014 at 6%. Minsk Mayor Ladutko also advocated for ending the wage growth in the capital city, where in June the average wage was the highest – BYR 6.66 million (circa USD750).
Simultaneously, in Belarus’ oblasts and regions the average wage deviates significantly from the country’s average, mostly due to higher wages in Minsk. For example, in May 2013 only in 11 of 127 regions the average wage was higher than the country’s average: mostly in industrial towns Soligorsk, Novopolotsk, Rechica, Mozyr, Zhodino and surrounding areas. On the contrary, in 116 regions the average wage was below or well below the country’s average, from BYR 4.6 million in Brest to BYR 2.93 million in Braslavsky region.
Slower wage growth in 2013 and in 2014 will impact the social situation in the labour collectives. The likelihood of strikes will increase. In 2011-2012 Belarus’ workers organized a series of successful strikes and achieved pay rises or timely payments. Thereby a precedent was created: local authorities were forced to meet workers’ ultimate demands.
The authorities’ need for external financial resources is increasing. They are under greater pressure to privatize state enterprises. Noteworthy, ‘Transistor’ Plant is an ‘Integral’ Plant branch, which is one of the five Russo-Belarusian investment priorities.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.