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Kazakhstan: stop corrupt practices in oil and gas region, respect workers and their unions

By staff - International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), April 17, 2023

The ITUC demands that the government of Kazakhstan immediately implements ILO recommendations, restores the status of the Trade Union of Fuel and Energy Industry Workers as the recognised sectoral union and carries out reforms to tackle discrimination in the sector.

It comes after over a hundred oil workers were arrested on 11 April for demonstrating in the capital, Astana, to highlight their unjust, exploitative and indecent treatment.

They were protesting after around 250 oil workers had been fired in the town of Zhanaozen by the company Ali Ber after it lost a contract with Kazmunaigaz, the state oil and gas company. In 2011, 17 people were killed and a hundred more injured there when security forces brutally ended a peaceful protest of several months over wages and working conditions that involved thousands of people.

Meaningful social dialogue

ITUC President Akiko Gono said: “This is typical of the corrupt way in which oil and gas is run in Kazakhstan, all at the expense of working people. Kazmunaigaz moves contracts between different operating companies to run down working conditions. These companies fire their workers when they lose contracts and the new, winning company re-employs some, but not all, and usually on worse conditions.

“This has to stop. Solutions are readily available to manage things in a much fairer way and give workers a voice. This will improve conditions in the sector and increase productivity. Social dialogue and collective bargaining are the best means to achieve transparency, stability and sustainability, but this cannot be genuine when freedom of association is restricted in law and practice.

“We demand the full implementation of the ILO recommendation on Kazakhstan, including on freedom of association, and the registration of the Trade Union of Fuel and Energy Industry Workers. This will lead to meaningful social dialogue and bargaining, which is a building block for tackling the corruption in the sector and ensuring decent work.

“Also, all charges against the workers who protested this week must be dropped. With the reforms we are demanding, they will have a channel to express their concerns and the next crisis can be averted.”

In meetings with the ILO Committee on Application of Standards, with several ILO officials and with an ITUC mission to the country, the government of Kazakhstan has promised to implement ILO recommendations. However, it has only made modest moves to improve collective dispute resolution processes and simplify industrial action by amending labour legislation. It must go further and promote genuine collective bargaining. It has yet to ensure full freedom of association in law, by amending trade union legislation, and in practice, by facilitating and not obstructing registration of unions. This should include ITUC affiliate the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan and the Trade Union of Fuel and Energy Industry Workers.

Declaration about Kazakhstan

By various Russian anarcho-syndicalists and anarchists - International Workers Association, January 13, 2022

Statement by Russian anarcho-syndicalists and anarchists on the situation in Kazakhstan

We, Anarcho-syndicalists and Anarchists of Russia express our full and complete solidarity with the social protest of the working people of Kazakhstan and send them our comradely greetings!

The current explosion of social protest in Kazakhstan, one of the most outstanding and brightest since the beginning of the new century, has become the apogee of the wave of the strike struggle of oil workers and other categories of workers in the country, which has not stopped since last summer.

The working people of Kazakhstan gradually recovered from the terrible massacre of the proletarians, organized in 2011 by the dictatorial regime of Nazarbayev, and began to consistently seek higher wages and the ability to create trade unions and other workers' associations. The poverty of the majority of the population, the cruel exploitation of labor, the rise in prices, daily oppression and lack of rights made the position of the working person unbearable and forced him to rise to protest actions.

The last straw was the layoffs of tens of thousands of oil workers in December 2021, the introduction of a "sanitary" dictatorship under the pretext of "fighting the pandemic" and a draconian increase in gas prices. On January 3, a general strike of workers began in the Mangistau region, which soon spread to other regions of the country. In the former capital of Kazakhstan, Almaty, clashes erupted between protesters and repressive forces; there are tens or even hundreds of people killed and wounded. During the protests, disadvantaged people, primarily young unemployed and internal migrants, committed acts of popular expropriation, destroying many large shopping centers, shops and bank branches. In a number of cases, the troops refused to open fire on the rebels.

Free Nurbek Kushakbayev! Support independent workers’ organisation in Kazakhstan!

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, April 19, 2017

Trades unionists have launched an international campaign for the release of Nurbek Kushakbayev, who was jailed this month for his part in organising strike action in the western Kazakhstan oil field.

A court in Astana, the Kazakh capital, sentenced Kushakbayev to two-and-half years in jail, followed by a further two-year ban on organising.

Kushakbayev is a trade union safety inspector at Oil Construction Company (OCC), an oilfield service firm based in Mangistau, western Kazakhstan. He is also deputy president of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, which the government banned last year under a law designed to straitjacket unions not controlled by the state.

In January, workers at several oil companies in Mangistau staged a hunger strike in protest at the ban on union federation, to which their workplace organisations were affiliated. Dozens of participants in the hunger strike were arrested. Most were released without charge, but Kushakbayev and another union organiser at OCC, Amin Yeleusinov, were arrested and secretly transported to Astana, more than 1000 kilometres to the east. Yeleusinov is still awaiting trial.

Kazakhstan: legal shackles on workers’ movement challenged

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature, June 21, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

A challenge to laws that shackle trade unions in Kazakhstan was mounted at the International Labour Conference this month – and activists hope this will boost workers’ efforts to rebuild grass-roots organisation.

The conference, staged by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a United Nations agency,

in Geneva, said Kazakhstan would have to amend the Trade Union Law it passed last year – or face action for breaching its obligations under international treaties.

The conference said that “excessive limitations” on unions, that “limit the right of workers to form and join trade unions of their own choosing”, had to be removed, and laws banning financial assistance to unions from trade unionists in other countries scrapped.

The decision came just after the Kazakh authorities refused registration to the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, an alternative to the state-run federation of “yellow” (government- and employer-controlled) unions.

Kazakhstan’s Trade Union Law was introduced on the back of the violent repression of oil workers, whose seven-month strike in 2011 – the country’s biggest ever – ended with a police massacre of demonstrators at Zhanaozen. At least 16 were killed and 60 wounded, and an unknown number tortured in police detention.

In 2012, 32 oil workers were put on trial, and some sentenced to imprisonment of up to six years. A wave of repression against journalists, opposition politicians and community activists produced the toughest conditions for social movements in post-Soviet Kazakhstan’s history.

Kazakhstan: Most Jailed Oil Workers Now Released, but Truth About Massacre Still Hidden

By Gabriel Levy - People and Nature - April 22, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Two more of the oil workers jailed after the 2011 strikes in Kazakhstan have been released, and two more transferred from prison to colony-settlements.

Two workers from Zhanaozen, the centre of the strike movement – Kanat Zhusipbaev and Shabdal Utkilov – are still behind bars. Three more, from the nearby settlement of Shetpe, are presumed to be in prison and are due for release this year or next.

The reduction of the prisoners’ sentences comes after an international campaign by trades unionists, during which Kazakh embassies across the world were picketed and 11,000 letters sent to Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev. The seven-month strike in 2011, in which thousands of workers in the western Kazakh oil field took part, was brought to a bloody end on 16 December that year. Security forces opened fire on a demonstration at Zhanaozen, killing at least 16 people and wounding at least 60.

Thirty-seven people rounded up during a police reign of terror in the town were tried in June 2012. All but the five mentioned above have been released, according to human rights campaigners and trade union organisations. (See a list here.)

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