Kazakh labour unions too afraid of police to launch long strikes

ALMATY, April 9 (The Conway Bulletin) – The spectre of Kazakh police shooting dead oil workers during a strike in 2011 haunts trade union members who are now too afraid of the security forces to launch long-term industrial action.

The issue of workers’ rights in Kazakhstan surged into the public consciousness in December 2011 after police shot dead at least 15 people in the scruffy western oil town of Zhanaozen, bringing to an end a six month strike aimed at increasing oil workers’ salaries.

In an interview with The Conway Bulletin in Almaty, Aleksei Nigai, deputy head of the small Odak union, said that although conditions for workers in general had not improved since 2011, workers avoided long stand offs with the security forces (April 7).

“Since then [Zhanaozen], there have been more and more strikes but the scale has been modest because workers fear the government’s reaction,” he said.
“Nobody wants to be shot for a salary increase.”

Mr Nigai was talking just a few days after a four-day strike hit an oil services company in western Kazakhstan.

He also said the government was planning to introduce legislation that would increase the punishment for strikes not authorised and organised by the official government-linked union.

In other words, Mr Nigai said, the Kazakh state wanted a Potemkin union system that it could easily control.

“There will be only one umbrella organisation, the Federation, which is appointed by the President,” he said with a sigh and a shrug.

“Tell me how this is different to, say, Turkmenistan.”

>>This story was first published in issue 179 of The Conway Bulletin on April 9 2014. To subscribe click here. For a free trial, click here.

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