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Global unions speak up for Kazakh trade unions

23 May, 2017Amin Yeleusinov, chair of the Trade Union of Oil Construction Company was sentenced on 16 May to two-years imprisonment in Kazakhstan. The trade union leader dismissed all charges against him as unjust.

The sentence is the latest in a long list of violations of trade union rights committed by the Kazakh authorities, pushing IndustriALL Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) to submit a joint complaint to the Committee on Freedom of Association of the International Labour Organization.

Amin Yeleusinov is one of the leaders of the dissolved Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of the Republic of Kazakhstan (KNPRK), affiliated to the ITUC.

Before the trial, the authorities put a lot of pressure on Amin Yeleusinov, forcing him to confess to accusations of embezzling union funds. According to Yeleusinov, during an entire month of pre-trial investigations he was quarantined. In quarantine prisoners remained in a very damp cell. From 6 am to 10 pm they were not allowed to lie or sit on beds. They could only sit on a stool without a backrest. Due to bad detention conditions, Yeleusinov developed a heart condition and joint problems.

Finally, Yeleusinov was blackmailed into making a false confession, which was drafted by the prison staff and videotaped without the presence of his lawyer. Later he retracted this confession.

In addition to two years imprisonment, Yeleusinov has to pay an amount of more than KZT 8 million (US $26,000) in financial compensation for the harm caused to the company. Part of his property and funds have been confiscated. He is banned from any union and public activities for five years. 

Previously, on 7 April, Nurbek Kushakbayev was sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment and fined KZT 25 million (US $80,000) for his calls for an illegal strike.

Almost 300 oil service workers started a peaceful hunger strike in January to protest against the dissolution of their national union centre. Many of the workers were arrested and were made to pay fines and compensation to Oil Construction Company in amounts exceeding the local average monthly salary.

The proceedings against the two trade union leaders were held with serious violations. Upon detention, both leaders were transported from Aktau to Astana despite the fact that according to the local legislation the trial should have been conducted at the location where the alleged crime had been committed. Police did not inform family members and lawyers about the arrests. Journalists were not permitted to attend the trial.

In addition, there was declassified material from the National Security Committee in the Mangystau region and the Office for Combating Organized Crime in the indictment against Kushakbayev. This material proves that the phones of the union and its leaders have been tapped since 9 October 2015.

The International Trade Union Confederation, with the full support of IndustriALL, filed a complaint to the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association on behalf of its affiliate KNPRK. According to Kazakh law, acting on behalf of non-registered union organization is a crime. Therefore the members of the dissolved Confederation cannot make their complaint themselves.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“IndustriALL Global Union fully supports the ITUC complaint. The continuing crackdown on trade union rights in Kazakhstan is shameful and inadmissible. We express our solidarity with KNPRK member unions and their leaders and will render our support to all workers and leaders fighting for trade union rights in Kazakhstan.”