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 regard the Catholic conference as yet another international event to promote Minsk as a global negotiating platform. Minsk’s proposal to organise a meeting between the Roman-Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church is rather an image-making undertaking than a serious intention. However, the authorities could somewhat extend the opportunities for the Roman-Catholic Church in Belarus due to developing contacts with the Catholic world.
Minsk is attempting to lay out a mosaic from various international religious, political and sportive events to shape a positive image of Belarus for promoting the Helsinki 2.0 idea.
Belarus’ invitation to the head of the Holy See for a meeting with the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church should be regarded as a continuation of her foreign policy efforts in shaping Minsk’s peacekeeping image and enhancing Belarus’ international weight. The Belarusian authorities are aware that their initiative is unlikely to find supporters among the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow. In Russia, isolationist sentiments prevail.
In addition, for domestic audiences, the authorities make up for the lack of tangible economic growth with demonstrations of growth in Minsk’s authority at international level through providing a platform for religious, sportive and other dialogues.