A trip of Lithuanian trade union members to a seminar in Moscow has raised some questions back home. Deputy Speaker of the Seimas Algirdas Sysas called the trip “thoughtless” and called to refrain from visiting Russian events in the future due to “the current context”. RuBaltic.Ru contacted the president of the Lithuanian Trade Union Confederation Artūras Černiauskas, whose men participated in the seminar in question.
- Mr. Černiauskas, tell us about the seminar in Moscow that the members of your organization attended. What were they doing there?
- It was a seminar hosted annually by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR). We sent members of our trade unions there to exchange experience in fostering social dialogue, attracting new countries, and trade unions’ activities in resolving democratic issues. There were many different topics. Our delegates met with trade union members from Russia and from other countries. Many countries were represented. European countries, as well as post-Soviet states. Seminars like this usually have a wide array of participants.
The goal of the trip was the exchange of experience and presenting that experience. You shouldn’t think of education as just a teacher delivering a lecture. These seminars are mostly discussions. And we are glad that the Lithuanian example is used to establish trilateral commissions in Armenia and will be used for trilateral commissions in Azerbaijan. We exchange delegations of trilateral commissions. We were in Armenia, and Armenians came to us. The same thing with Azerbaijan. Right now I am happy that we can share the experience with Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, because we want democracy in these countries to develop faster and for the local trade unions to embark on the path of democratic progress.
- Do you share with your Russian colleagues as well?
- Yes, we share with our Russian colleagues as well. Quite often we meet with representatives of Russian trade unions. In the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), there is the Pan-European Regional Council (PERC), which is chaired by the Russian Mikhail Shmakov. So the meetings include Russian delegates, Belarussians, all of Europe, Georgia. All of the European countries! There is a lot of talk about trade union rights being violated in Ukraine and Belarus. These issues are relevant right now, but it should be mentioned that we try to avoid politics. We discuss all our issues in the context of workers, employees, because the rights of the workers is what mainly concerns us.
- What do you think of the criticism from the Lithuanian politics for visiting Russia?
- I wouldn’t call it criticism. It was a statement of a fact that our members were in Russia. I understand the political situation. But this situation was created by the politicians and not the people.
The Lithuanians have nothing against Russians
The political situation, maybe, forces some leaders to voice their opinion on the viability of such visits. But, I think that this has nothing to do with politics or even Ukraine: it is just that in Lithuania, there are discussions of the new Labour Code, a new social model, and in order to lower the chances of trade unions engaging in protest activities, these opinions pop up.
- Deputy Speaker of the Seimas Algirdas Sysas called the trip to Moscow “thoughtless”. What can you reply to him?
- He proposed refraining from trips like these. But, I already told him that the political situation does not interest us. On the PERC meeting, we said that we won’t play political games. As I said, the most important thing for us are the rights of workers. Regardless of the current political situation. Sysas stepped away from the trade union movement a long time ago (he is a former trade union leader) and probably thinks that we should consider only the Scandinavian countries. But we have surpassed that stage, currently we are not just learning, but sharing our experience with countries that have less developed trade union democracy. The 25 years of experience that we are having is on demand in other countries. Even our founding charter says that we must engage in social dialogue, exchange and share our experience. Our trips to the CIS, meetings and delegations are an opportunity to do so.
Interestingly, our PM also recently visited Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. Obviously, with Russia, there is the conflict in Ukraine, but on such meetings we meet up with Ukrainian delegations as well.
And simultaneously talking with Russian and Ukrainian trade unions, we have the best set-up, where we can listen to both parties.
On PERC meetings after discussions with the Ukrainian and Russian parties we came to a conclusion that we must talk about the people. That the bloodshed must be stopped, and all the problems must be solved in a peaceful manner, by negotiations. Both the Russians and the Ukrainians agreed with that.
- Will Sysas’ words affect the activities of your organization in any way?
- Sysas and his allies’ stance on this did not affect our activities. Because this is not the first time, when they have a desire to compare the trade union movement with the remains of the Soviet past. Some of our leaders also expressed the same sentiments. Also, even the Scandinavian trade unions had to speak up and explain that you can’t call trade unions remains of the Soviet past, because trade union are the development of democracy.
Translated by: Pavel Shamshiev