Oil workers’ protests growing in western Kazakhstan

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ASTANA (TCA) — A protest by oil workers in western Kazakhstan against the closure of a confederation of independent trade unions is growing as it approaches the end of its second week, RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service reports.

RFE/RL’s Kazakh Service correspondent in the oil-producing Manghystau Province reports that about 400 oil-sector workers were taking part in the hunger strike protest on January 18.
The protest initially involved about 90 people, but expanded considerably on January 17 when hundreds more joined the hunger strike.

Most of the hunger strikers work within Manghystau’s Qalamqas and Zhetybai oil fields.

They are demanding that Kazakhstan’s ruling Nur Otan party reinstate the independent trade union body — the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan.

The confederation was closed down as a result of an economic court ruling on January 4.

The case was brought against the confederation by Kazakhstan’s Justice Ministry, which accused the organization of failing to comply with a 2015 law that required it to confirm its status as “national union” within six months of officially registering.

Confederation representatives say some of their attempts to register those activities were rejected by local officials, complicating the process of confirming the organization’s “national” status.

Human Rights Watch has said that Kazakhstan’s 2014 law on trade unions contains articles that restrict fundamental freedoms and are incompatible with international standards.

Similar protests took place in Manghystau Province in December 2016.

Kazakh authorities’ pressure on independent trade unions began after protests in 2011 by oil workers in western Kazakhstan.

Trade unions sided with the workers during those demonstrations, which lasted several months and ultimately led to the deaths of at least 14 protesters who were killed by police in the oil town of Zhanaozen on December 16 and 17, 2011.

Sergey Kwan

TCA