Labour market situation as factor of socio-political uncertainty
As of May 1st, official unemployment rate almost doubled compared with 2014 (amid half as many vacancies) reaching 1% of the economically active population. Official unemployment figures neither reflect the real situation, nor stimulate the government to seek ways to stabilise the labour market. By the year-end, labour market situation is likely to become a factor of social tension.
Belarus still has a record low number of officially unemployed. Until recently, there were no practical implications for economically active persons to be registered as unemployed. Unemployment benefits make only USD 23 and are paid only 6 month a year for three years, while administrative and bureaucratic burden is huge. The vast majority of jobs available through unemployment centres are low-paid jobs for unskilled workers. Overall, unemployed registration requires a lot of time and effort, but does little in helping to find a job or providing even a minimum income for the search period.
Naturally, unemployed citizens until recently preferred to look for jobs independently or engage in informal jobs, rather than register with the employment service. The Decree No 3 on ‘social parasitism’ has changed such practices by prompting unemployed people to register as unemployed in order to avoid payment of fees envisaged by the decree, which has led to unemployment rate growth. On March 1st, 2015 there were 35,900 registered unemployed people, on April 1st – 39,000 and on May 1st – 43,400, which is 92.9% more than a year ago.
In the future, the employment situation will only deteriorate. The state employment programme envisages up to 180,000 registered unemployed by the year-end. However, governmental experts forecast that circa 280,000 people will be looking for jobs in late 2015, which is 6% of the working population. Meanwhile, as of March 1st, 2015 216,000 people from officially employed in the economy were on leave or worked part-time.
Tension on the labour market might increase due to labour migration flows: Belarusian workers return from Russia due to economic slowdown in Russia and job seekers influx from Ukraine – due to the recession in Ukraine. The IISEPS poll suggests that Belarusians assess the growing tension on the labour market adequately by putting the unemployment threat in the top three problems that the country faces (along with the production decline and impoverishment of the population).
Meanwhile, the government has not taken and does not plan to take steps to prevent growth in social tension. It assumes that heaviest burden for lay-offs would be on employers. However, the government has no coercion instruments vis-a-vis employers and no funds to encourage them to retrain laid-off workers. The government can only somewhat put off mass lay-offs in the public sector before the elections, which is not a very effective strategy.
Overall, the number of job seekers might increase sharply up to 300,000 people in Belarus by late 2015. This is fraught with higher social tension and with growth with crime rates in particular.
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.