Eurocopter-Kazakhstan Engineering's factory in Astana
Just a week after proudly announcing the expansion of the Kazakh-European joint venture producing military helicopters, it seems that relations between Kazakhstan's government and its European partner, defense giant Eurocopter, may be getting rocky. The company, Eurocopter-Kazakhstan Engineering, has been accused of violating labor laws and discriminating against citizens of Kazakhstan, reports Tengrinews.kz. From a press release of the Aviation Prosecution Office of Astana:
The Astana Aviation Transport Prosecutor's Office together with the government labor inspector for Astana conducted an inspection of the Eurocopter-Kazakhstan Engineering's compliance with the labor legislation of Kazakhstan. Many violations of Kazakhstan's legislative requirements on labor and insurance in the activity of the partnership were uncovered.
Among the violations: the company allegedly failed to provide proper safety instructions to its employees and engaged in "discrimination against the rights of citizens of Kazakhstan with regard to pay in comparison with foreign citizens for equivalent work." As a result, the company was fined 934,740 tenge, or just a little over $6,000. So, chances are this won't break Eurocopter's bank.
Labor rights haven't necessarily been universally respected in Kazakhstan, so it's curious why Eurocopter would be singled out, even for this slap on the wrist. Kazakhstan has been assiduously courting foreign defense manufacturers to set up business in Kazakhstan, so one would think it would be very wary of creating a bad impression for future investors. But the question of unequal pay for expatriate and local workers has been a sensitive issue in Kazakhstan, especially in the oil business. This was one of the issues behind the 2006 mass brawls between Kazakh and Turkish oil workers, and also was an issue in the labor protests that eventually blew up in Zhanaozen. Kazakhstan's government has occasionally dabbled in stirring this up as a populist issue. And of course, after Zhanaozen, the government has shown a sincere desire to stave off further labor discontent. So it's not yet clear if this a shot across the bow to Eurocopter, or a genuine effort to ensure good working conditions for Kazakhstan's workers.