Norway's Yara says Belarus potash supplier must stop punishing workers

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FILE PHOTO: Workers of the potash producer Belaruskali protest against presidential election results, in Salihorsk

OSLO (Reuters) - Belarus's state-run potash miner Belaruskali must stop punishing workers for taking part in strikes and anti-government protests, and also needs to improve workplace safety, one of the company's biggest customers said on Saturday.

Norway's Yara ASA, which is among the world's largest fertiliser companies and a leading buyer of potash from Belaruskali, said the situation at the Belarusian firm was "not tenable".

Belaruskali did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"We need to see imminent and substantial improvements in the conditions for, and relations with Belaruskali's workforce, and an end to the use of reprisals as well as improved occupational safety conditions," Yara Chief Executive Svein Tore Holsether said in a statement.

"We are particularly concerned by numerous reports of dismissals of workers who have expressed their democratic rights in a peaceful manner," he said.

Holsether, who visited Belaruskali in September to make his position clear, did not say whether Yara would sever business ties with the potash miner.

Belarus has been rocked by mass protests since an Aug. 9 presidential election which veteran incumbent Alexander Lukashenko said he won - an assertion contested by his opponents, who say the vote was rigged and want him to quit.

In August, a strike leader at Belaruskali was sentenced to 15 days in prison, and last month the company said 49 workers had been fired for taking part in a strike.

"Despite our continued efforts to bring about change through dialogue, we have not seen significant improvements in the situation for Belaruskali workers," Holsether said.

(Reporting by Terje Solsvik in Oslo; Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Editing by Helen Popper)