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Kazakhstan must respect union rights

7 June, 2022For the fifth time in six years, the ongoing violations of union rights in Kazakhstan are brought before the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards during the International Labour Conference in Geneva.

Since the tragedy in Zhanaozen in 2011, there has been no substantial progress in trade union rights; Kazakhstan continues to avoid fulfilling its obligations under ILO Convention 87.

An actual ban on the creation of independent trade unions, repression against union leaders and the criminalization of strikes deprive workers of their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and create conditions for new social conflicts.
Over 60 large spontaneous strikes, mainly in the energy and oil sector last year, and massive protests in January 2022 where at least 160 people were killed, clearly demonstrate that the demolition and oppression of democratic institutions leads to tragic consequences.

The longstanding issue of the registration of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK), dissolved in March 2017, and the last KNPRK affiliate, the Trade Union of Fuel and Energy Industry Workers, suspended in February 2021, has yet to be resolved.

CAS is demanding that any legal and practical obstacles preventing the registration is removed.

The registration procedure is complex and serves to prevent the creation of free and independent unions. The registration of the local branch of Trade Union of Fuel and Energy Industry Workers in the Atyrau region was denied six times, each time with a new reason. The union branch in Almaty has had its registration papers rejected on four separate occasions, over alleged irregularities of the paperwork.

The practice of judicial harassment of union leaders continues. Independent union leaders Erlan Baltabay and Larisa Kharkova are still banned from public activity, including union activities.

CAS has repeatedly demanded that the ban is lifted.

The government of Kazakhstan has announced amendments to legislation to improve human rights by the end of 2022. However, independent unions have been excluded from the government’s working group on labour legislation reform.

In a referendum on 5 June, a majority of the voters approved a number of constitutional reforms, which means returning to a parliamentary system, among other things.There is an urgent need to establish genuine social dialogue and to remove the legal and practical barriers unions face in exercising freedom of association.

In a statement at the CAS, IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“We once again urge the government to take all necessary action to make sure that Kazakhstan complies with its international obligations. The union registration procedure should be simplified and based on notification of the creation of the union, any restrictions on union activity shall be lifted and all charges against union leaders dropped, including removing the charges from the trade union leaders’ records.”