A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced a trade union activist to two-and-a-half years in jail for his role in a recent labor dispute.
The presiding judge in the Almaty courthouse in the capital, Astana, Aizhan Kulbayeva, ruled on April 7 that Nurbek Kushakbayev had violated a law by encouraging workers to participate in an unauthorized strike.
Kushakbayev was charged for his involvement in strike mounted in December by several dozen workers at a company based in western Kazakhstan and called Techno Trading Ltd. The workers declared they were going on a partial hunger strike in a demand for improved working conditions and an increase in their wages. Kushakbayev is accused of giving strikers advice on how to formulate their demands.
“Kushakbayev offered them his consultation, gave them more effective tips on how to mount a strike, and specifically suggested that they declare a hunger strike, gather as many people as possible and not be afraid of the police,” prosecutor Kanat Daribay said in the opening hearing in late March.
Daribay said that the protest set Techno Trading Ltd back by around 25 million tenge ($79,000). It is not clear how this amount was calculated, but the court rule to also require Kushakbayev to pay that amount in compensation.
A court in Kazakhstan has entered a second week of hearings in the trial of a trade union activist accused of whipping up unrest among industrial workers in the west.
Nurbek Kushakbayev stands accused of inciting a strike in December by several dozen employees of Techno Trading Ltd, a company based in western Kazakhstan. The workers declared they were going on a partial hunger strike in a demand for improved working conditions and an increase in their wages. Kushakbayev is accused of giving strikers advice on how to formulate their demands.
His trial is taking place in the capital city, Astana, 1,700 kilometers away from where the company is based, for reasons that have not been clarified by prosecutors.
On March 28, Kushakbayev’s lawyer, Tulegen Shaikov, appealed for the judge, Aizhan Kulbayeva, to recuse herself, arguing that she was unfairly favoring the prosecution, but the motion was denied.
Kushakbayev’s trial is widely seen as linked to his union consultancy activities at Oil Construction Company (OCC), which is also based in the west, in the city of Aktau. Hundreds of workers there also went on hunger strike earlier this year.
A separate trial for Amin Yeleusinov, the main union leader at OCC, is expected soon, although no date has been set.
Kushakbayev and Yeleusinov were both arrested in the days after the OOC strike was forcibly brought to a close amid a welter of fines and further threats of prosecution against workers.
The trial against Kushakbayev opened on March 17.
Prosecutors accuse Kushakbayev of willfully causing mischief by giving legal advice to the Techno Trading Ltd strikers.
A court in western Kazakhstan has ordered oil workers who went on a hunger strike as part of a labor dispute to pay 3.4 million tenge ($10,000) in compensation for damages purportedly incurred by their refusal to eat.
Mangystau district court in the city of Aktau on January 24 found that the 28 laborers had caused their employer, Oil Construction Company, or OCC, financial losses, despite the fact that they continued to work for the duration of their protest.
The standoff between Aktau-based OCC and its employees was sparked by a court ruling at the start of the month revoking registration for an independent national trade union that laborers have said has been more aggressive in defending their interests than state-approved unions. On January 5, one day after Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK in its Russian initials) was denied its registration over registration technicalities, OCC workers declared a hunger strike.
After OCC management failed to reach a negotiated settlement, the company turned to the courts in Aktau with a plea to have the strike declared illegal. It also asked for the court to require the protesting laborers to vacate company premises in which they were conducting a sit-in. The court upheld the company’s request.
Workers and their representatives expressed dismay at that decision, declaring that their decision to refuse food was a matter of personal conscience and that their protest had no impact on the company’s productivity.
Following up on that ruling, OCC pursued an additional civil suit demanding damages over the hunger strike, also successfully.
Around 300 OCC employees had taken part in the hunger strike, which ran from January 5 through to last weekend, when they were evicted from the location where the protest was taking place.
A protest by oil sector workers in the western Kazakhstan city of Aktau has entered its third week as authorities appear unwilling to reconsider a decision to withdraw the registration of an independent trade union.
This dispute flared when the Specialized Inter-District Economic Court of South Kazakhstan Region ruled on January 4 to shutter the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK in its Russian initials) over technicalities to do with its registration. The following day, laborers with the Atyrau-based Oil Construction Company, or OCC, filed an official motion to initiate a hunger strike.
In an echo of the industrial dispute that culminated in bloodshed in the oil town of Zhanaozen in 2011, national media have almost entirely ignored the standoff. But for tireless reporting from correspondents at RFE/RL’s Kazakhstan service, Radio Azattyq, possibly nothing would be known at all about what is taking place. With the number of workers taking part in protest actions growing — to around 400 people, according to Radio Azattyq — officials may possibly begin to take more notice.
Moscow-based website ferghana.ru cited a workers representative at OCC, Nurbek Kushakbayev, as saying that operations had not been halted by the industrial dispute.
“Work continues, we have not stopped work. The workers are working, but they have simply stopped eating. There are threats from the authorities, they keep on saying this is illegal. But there is nothing illegal about this. To eat or not to eat is for every individual to decide,” Kushakbayev toldferghana.ru.
Kazakhstan is flouting the rights of its workers to organize in trade unions and assert their labor rights, a damning new report published by an international human rights watchdog alleges.
The study, “We Are Not The Enemy: Violations of Workers’ Rights in Kazakhstan”, was published by Human Rights Watch on November 24, shortly ahead of the fifth anniversary of a bout of fatal violence that spiraled out of an oil strike in the town of Zhanaozen.
The report documents “harassment, surveillance, and, in some cases, spurious legal prosecution or dismissals in apparent retaliation for labor activism.”
Based on interviews with 55 union leaders, labor activists and workers in nine cities—including in the oil and gas sector in western Kazakhstan and the industrial heartland in the center and northeast—the study reveals cases of harassment and intimidation of workers by the authorities and employers to deter them from joining independent trade unions.
It cites cases of workers fired for taking industrial action — a ‘disproportionate disciplinary sanction,’ HRW says — and instances of surveillance of independent union leaders and activists by the security services.
Larisa Kharkova, president of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, recalled how on a trip to western Kazakhstan in March this year she was “surrounded in Aktau — day and night” by intelligence agents, and during her meetings with union members “we were sitting there, talking, and we could see how [the security agents] drove up and photographed us.”
Kharkova also explained how a new trade union law enacted in 2014 had “paralyzed” the work of her confederation’s members, independent labor unions which were denied re-registration under burdensome new requirements.
Tajikistan industry’s visiting card: That was how President Emomali Rahmon once described aluminum producer TALCO.
But things are looking a bit grim for the company at the moment with the news that it has had to lay off 607 employees, equivalent to 7 percent of the entire workforce, because of low global prices for its product.
Reuters news agency on April 19 cited TALCO press secretary Igor Sattarov as saying that 8,200 workers would be left at the company after the cutback.
Although the loss of employment will come as a massive blow to the laborers affected, the cutback is still quite a bit short of the 2,000 job cuts called for international consultants. Sattarov said TALCO instead opted for a “mitigated plans for the staffing optimization” and has put a number of people on unpaid leave.
International aluminum prices are currently hovering around $1,600 per ton, which marks something of a recovery from the lows seen last year, but still falls short of a figure that would make TALCO seriously profitable.
Wanting to help TALCO out of a tight spot, the government in November granted the company licenses to develop two gold deposits in the northern Sughd province, Konchoch and Chulobi. Usage rights over the deposits will extend to 25 years.
Kazakhstan's slowing economy is pinching the country's industrial heartland.
Several industrial behemoths have announced cutbacks that they blame on a toxic mix of factors hitting their bottom lines, from falling commodity prices to an overvalued tenge. And as the enterprises pass the losses onto their workers, Astana is looking on anxiously, with memories of violent unrest in Kazakhstan’s oil fields still fresh.
Copper producer KAZ Minerals (previously called Kazakhmys) announced on February 2 that it would temporarily shut down unprofitable operations and redeploy 2,000 employees to other projects—though it promised no “mass” job cuts for its staff of 60,000. Meanwhile, steel producer ArcelorMittal Temirtau slashed salaries in January, reducing local staff pay by a quarter and cutting expatriate salaries in half.
KAZ Minerals pointed the finger at “complicated economic conditions” mostly brought on by a fall in copper prices, while ArcelorMittal Temirtau blamed a cash shortage caused by “a complicated geopolitical situation” (shorthand for economic problems stemming from the conflict in Ukraine and western sanctions against Russia). ArcelorMittal also blamed the regional economic slowdown and an “unfavorable” sales market.
The company – owned by international steel giant ArcelorMittal – said it could not compete with Russian steel, which is cheaper following the dramatic fall in the value of the ruble.
Industrialists from car manufacturers to natural resources exporters have been complaining for months that the value of Kazakhstan’s currency is eroding their competitive edge.