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Kazakhstan must respect democracy and fundamental rights

11 January, 2022Nearly 8,000 people have been detained and more than 160 people have been killed following mass protests triggered by a doubling of gas prices in Kazakhstan. The violent response yet again stresses the need for democracy and recognition and respect for fundamental human and workers’ rights in the country.

Kazakhstan is known for a systematic violation of core human and workers’ rights, as well as general lack of democracy in the country. Social dialogue is virtually non-existent, and instead of developing laws on conflict resolution, including collective labour disputes, authorities adopted a regressive law on trade unions in 2014.

The law effectively eliminates free and independent unions. In June 2021, for the fifth time, union rights violations in Kazakhstan were in focus at the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards during the International Labour Conference.

The Kazakh law on strikes prevents workers from resolving issues quickly and efficiently at the workplace. Authorities have dissolved independent trade unions and as a result, most workers’ protests have become spontaneous.

Three trade union officials from the Fuel and Energy Trade Union of Kazakhstan; Kuspan Kosshygulov, Takhir Erdanov and Amin Eleusinov, went missing after participating in protests in Aktau on 6 January. Following the urgent intervention by IndustriALL and the ITUC, they were later released.

To achieve respect for human and workers’ rights, social dialogue and democracy, IndustriALL Global Union once again calls on Kazakhstan to:

  • Bring national legislation in line with ILO Conventions 87 and 98, ratified by Kazakhstan, and to ensure full compliance in respect of fundamental human and workers’ rights
  • Restore the registration of the dissolved Confederation of independent trade unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK) and its suspended affiliate, and simplify the process for trade union registration
  • Enable independent trade unions to operate and ensure genuine social dialogue at all levels

There is a lesson to be learned from the mass protests. It is policies, and not external forces, that have provoked the social and labour conflicts, strongly suppressed by the police and the security forces. The main lesson is that dialogue with relevant parties, a commitment to openness and democratic values, social dialogue with workers represented by trade unions, are needed to build a sustainable society in Kazakhstan.