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Kazakh trade unions sue ArcelorMittal for not respecting collective agreement

20 September, 2017The Metallurgical Workers' Union Zhaktau and Mineworkers’ Union Korgau at ArcelorMittal Temirtau in Kazakhstan initiated a lawsuit against the company for failure to conclude a new collective agreement and for not respecting social benefits and guarantees of employees.

On 1 September, the previous collective agreement expired. The draft of the new agreement was not completed despite long negotiations between union representatives and company management since February. According to the union Zhaktau, management deliberately delayed the negotiation process to undermine the union. The company is putting pressure on activists, forcing them to withdraw from the union.

The unions took the case to the Karaganda regional court, demanding that workers’ rights be protected and the company be obliged to respect the collective agreement. On 31 August, the court found in favour of both trade unions, which are affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union through the Trade Union of Workers of Mining and Metallurgical Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan. Management of ArcelorMittal Temirtau is prohibited from cancelling and suspending social payments before trial. The court has also obliged the company to fulfil their obligations under the collective agreement concluded in 2014. The collective agreement affects more than 27,000 employees.

70 per cent of the new collective agreement was approved during negotiations, with the exception of the main sections devoted to benefits and bonuses. Compensation to the families in case of workers' death appeared to be the first stumbling block. However, management finally announced compensation for relatives of the victims of the coalmine explosion at ArcelorMittal Temirtau’s Kazakhstanskaya mine.

Company management claims it intends to determine all the guarantees and payments in a separate company policy in the future.

The Chair of Metallurgical Workers' Union Zhaktau, Viktor Shchetinin, said:

“This is not acceptable for us. Today there is a policy, and tomorrow it might be cancelled by a new director. Therefore, we stated that all guarantees and payments that were in the previous collective agreement should be saved and included in the new agreement”.

Conflict escalated once again after the conference of the labour collective in the beginning of August, which made and sent to the administration the decision on monthly wage rise of employees of steel and coal departments by 30 per cent from US$500-600 to US$650-780. Almost 400 conference participants have noted the decrease in the purchasing power of workers and rising prices for food, goods and services caused by high inflation (13.6 per cent in 2015 and 8.5 per cent in 2016). Besides, the local currency KZT lost more than half of its value over the past two years, after Kazakhstan switched to a floating exchange rate for its currency. Excellent results for the last two years allow the company to fulfil the workers’ demands.

Currently, the trade unions are preparing for a court hearing at the end of September. The President of the Trade Union of Workers of Mining and Metallurgical Industry of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Asylbek Nuralin, sent a letter to the Kazakh authorities, asking them to resolve the labour dispute and ensure workers’ rights.
The chair of the Mineworkers’ Union Korgau, Marat Mirgayazov, stated,

“The employer intends to save money, while the situation at the company is improving. We want our miners to work and live in better conditions than in the past. We are confident ofthe justice of our cause and we will go on, if necessary, up to the Supreme Court”.