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Kazakh trade union leader faces 8 years in jail

1 July, 2019IndustriALL Global Union has called on the president of Kazakhstan to intervene in the trial of Erlan Baltabay, a prominent trade union leader who is facing eight years in a jail and lifetime ban on holding a union position. The court is due to give its verdict any day.

The move comes just a week after Kazakhstan came under scrutiny for its poor record on trade union rights at the International Labour Conference.

Baltabay is on trial for the misappropriation of approximately US$28,000 of union dues. Baltabay says the money is still in his possession but denies fraud, saying he acted to protect the money for his members after his petrochemical workers’ union, Decent Work, was forcibly dissolved in 2015.

In an intervention at the Conference’s Committee of the Application of Standards on 18 June, IndustriALL condemned the inadmissible situation of workers’ rights in Kazakhstan. The country was examined for violating ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association and the right to organize.

The law on trade unions in Kazakhstan makes it extremely difficult for unions to be registered and the criminal code is being used to criminalize strike action in the country.

At the same time, independent union leaders, such as Larisa Kharkova, Amin Eleusinov and Nurbek Kushakbaev, have been punished and persecuted through the courts. The trio received the Arthur Svensson prize for trade union rights in 2018.

In a letter to the Kazakh president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, IndustriALL’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, said:

“We condemn both the ongoing trial (of Baltabay) and the earlier criminal procedures against Larisa Kharkova, Amin Eleusinov and Nurbek Kushakbaev, as well as attempts to repress leaders of independent trade unions and prevent them from performing their union related work. We further believe that the intention is to foster an atmosphere of fear and prevent other activists and workers from exercising their universally recognized fundamental rights and freedoms.”
Sanches also called on the president to adhere to the recommendations made by the Committee on the Application of Standards to improve trade union rights in the country after a “persistent” lack of progress.