Kazakhstan: Socialist Party MEP visits oil strikers

Workers faced with jail and brutal repression – Solidarity urgently needed!Reprint of article from SIPTU union newsletter

Socialist Party MEP, Paul Murphy, visited Kazakhstan over the last week to discuss with trade unionists and opposition activists. He travelled to the west of the country to meet with striking oil workers. Below is an article regarding Paul’s visit and the oil strike, published in the Services, Industrial, Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU) electronic newsletter. SIPTU is the largest union in Ireland, with over 200,000 workers from many sectors of the Irish economy. We also publish below a model letter of protest that readers can send to the Kazakhstan authorities concerning the oil workers’ strike.

Workers faced with jail and brutal repression – Solidarity urgently needed! Reprint of article from SIPTU union newsletter

Major strike movement in west Kazakhstan

Workers faced with jailings, intimidation and brutal repression

Solidarity urgently needed

A major strike is raging in the Mangistau oblast in the west of Kazakhstan, where at its height; up to

16,000 workers in the oil industry have been on strike. This strike started at the end of May and has now been ongoing for over two months. These are workers for the national oil company, KazMunaiGas, the national oil giant which is closely linked to the government and President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The strike also involves workers from subsidiary companies and contractors for KazMunaiGas.

The workers face desert conditions where in the summer, temperatures can rise to 50° degrees C and in the winter drop to -40° C. Workers reported the serious neglect of health and safety standards and they claim that a number of workers have unnecessarily died in the last years as a result of industrial accidents and illnesses brought on by the working conditions. A wage agreement was signed two years ago between the company and the union, which the strikers claim has not been fully implemented by the company.

In going on strike, the workers have faced massive state repression. Two trade union lawyers, Natalia Sokolova and Akshimat Aminov, have been jailed. Ms. Sokolova has been charged with “stirring up social conflict” and could face years in jail. She has now been in jail for over two months and her husband has not once been allowed to visit her. In reaction to this repression, 300 strikers and members of their family engaged in a hunger strike. Riot police have been used to disperse the protests and in a sign of the desperation, a number of the hunger strikers poured petrol over themselves, threatening to set themselves on fire. Many workers have received very serious anonymous threats, threatening the lives of their families and to burn their homes.

The company has sent official letters to many strikers stating that if they continue their strike, they will be fired. Hundreds of workers have already been fired, simply for exercising what should be their right to strike. In effect, a lockout is being imposed by the company. Those who have returned to work have had to sign a statement declaring that the strike is illegal and committing not to engage in such action again.

The strike has been ruled illegal by the courts on the basis of the Kazakh Labour Code. It is known that the Labour Code is particularly restrictive in relation to the right to strike for wokers in the extraction sector . This situation has been criticised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Socialist Party MEP for Dublin, Paul Murphy, recently visited to support the striking workers. When he met with senior management of the company, they made it clear that they are not willing to negotiate with the representatives of the strikers until the strikers return to work and that those who have been fired would not be allowed to return to their jobs. This is obviously unacceptable to the strikers.

The strikers key demands are: 1. The release of Natalia Sokolova and Akshmiat Aminov, the trade union lawyers. 2. A commitment from the company that all strikers, including those who have been fired, can return to work without victimisation. 3. The right of the workers to determine their trade union leadership and to form independent trade unions 4. Negotiations between the company and the representatives of the strikers to discuss the implementation of the wage agreement that was signed two years ago.

A campaign of disinformation has been waged by the company and the government internationally – claiming that the strike is not very significant and that the workers’ demands are unjustified. However, the information blockade is being broken. Last week, Sting cancelled a planned concert in Kazakhstan declaring that he would not cross a “virtual picket line”. This solidarity has raised the confidence of the strikers.

International solidarity from the trade union movement will increase the confidence of the strikers and increase pressure on the company to agree to negotiate. Letters of protest can be sent to doverie@kmg.kz (KazMunaiGas – the company), info@mangystau.kz (the local government) , ppo@s-k.kz (the state’s sovereign wealth fund that holds a majority of shares in KMG) P.Howes@s-k.kz and kbm@kbm.kz (Karazhanbasmunai – one of the subsidiary companies). A model letter of protest can be found on www.paulmurphymep.eu. They should be copied to info@paulmurphymep.eu, solidar@socialismkz.info, robert.cwi@gmail.com and alex@socdeistvie.info. Letters of solidarity can be sent to solidar@socialismkz.info, robert.cwi@gmail.com and alex@socdeistvie.info.

The workers are not receiving any funds while on strike and it is having a devastating impact on their lives and the lives of their families. A solidarity fund will shortly be set up by the workers to help to provide necessary food and other aid to the strikers and their families. Contact Paul Murphy MEP’s office to receive details of this – 01 6795030.

Model Letter

To whom it may concern:

The ongoing strike of thousands of oil workers in the Mangistau oblast in the west of Kazakhstan has been brought to my attention by Paul Murphy MEP who recently visited the region. I also understand that the musician Sting cancelled a concert in the capital city Astana planned for the beginning of July saying that he would not cross the “virtual picket line” of the oil workers.

These are workers for the national oil company, KazMunaiGas, the national oil giant which is closely linked to the government and President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. The strike also involves workers from subsidiary companies and contractors for KazMunaiGas.

I am aware that two lawyers representing these workers have been jailed, namely, Natalia Sokolova and Akshimat Aminov. Ms. Sokolova has been charged with “stirring up social conflict” and could face up to ten years in jail. She has now been in jail for over two months and her husband has not once been allowed to visit her.

The police force has used violence against protesters on a number of occasions, including on 8 July when the riot police were used to disperse the protesters from Zhanaozen Square. Many workers have received very serious anonymous threats, threatening the lives of their families and to burn their homes.

I also understand that KazMunaiGas has sent official letters on headed paper to many strikers stating that if they do not return to work, they will be fired. Hundreds of workers have already been fired, simply for exercising what should be their right to strike. In effect, a lockout is being imposed by the company. Those who have returned to work have had to sign a statement declaring that the strike is illegal and committing not to engage in such action again.

I know that you consider this strike to be illegal on the basis of the Kazakh Labour Code. However, I consider the right to strike as a basic right for all workers and that the right to form independent trade unions should be respected according to ILO conventions.

I understand that senior management of the company has made it clear that they are not willing to negotiate with the representatives of the strikers until the strikers return to work and that those who have been fired would not be allowed to return to their jobs. This is obviously unacceptable to the strikers. I call on you to immediately engage in serious negotiations with representatives of the strikers.

I support the key demands of the strikers, which are as follows: 1. The release of Natalia Sokolova and Akshmiat Aminov, the trade union lawyers. 2. A commitment from the company that all strikers, including those who have been fired, can return to work without victimisation. 3. The right of the workers to determine their trade union leadership and to form independent trade unions. 4. Negotiations between the company and the representatives of the strikers to discuss the implementation of the wage agreement that was signed two years ago.

Yours faithfully,

Name/ Organisation/ representing xxx workers

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