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Kazakhstan must respect union rights

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15 June, 2021For the fourth time, union rights violations in Kazakhstan were in focus at the ILO Committee on the Application of Standards during the International Labour Conference.

Responding to past recommendations of the Committee of Experts and bringing legislation in line with ILO Convention 87 on freedom of association, ratified by Kazakhstan in 2000, Kazakhstan adjusted some of its laws in 2020.

A new general agreement for 2021–2023, between the government and national associations of employers and workers, includes a commitment not to interfere in the internal affairs of organizations.

Although the Committee noted this as a first step in a right direction, the full conformity of Kazakh legislation is still a long way off.
Despite amendments, there has been no concrete practical impact. Prosecution of union leaders and prevention of union registration are still a reality in Kazakhstan.

Since the regressive law on trade unions was adopted in 2014, the registration procedures have been used to prevent the creation of free and independent trade unions. At least 600 unions at various levels have lost their legal status, including the Confederation of independent trade unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK). It was liquidated in March 2017 and has since then made three unsuccessful attempts to re-register. The government has paralyzed the activities of all unions belonging to the independent confederation, leaving many workers unprotected.

In February 2021, the last remaining and functioning union affiliated to KNPRK, the Trade union of fuel and energy industry workers, was suspended for six months.

The recent legislative amendments have not changed the situation for independent union leaders Erlan Baltabay and Larisa Kharkova, who were found guilty of bogus charges, imprisoned and placed in house arrest, respectively. Baltabay was later freed thanks to a massive international solidarity campaign. However, both are still considered criminals and banned from any public activity, including union activities, for a few years.

The Committee demands that Kazakhstan revises the union registration procedure to make it a formality, ensures the registration of the KNPRK or its successor, lifts the restrictions on the Trade union of fuel and energy industry workers, stops prosecuting unionists, and drops all charges against union leaders.

In a joint statement on behalf of global unions IUF, BWI and PSI, IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“Kazakhstan continues to avoid fulfilling its obligations under ILO Conventions 87 and 98. Taking into consideration the total absence of improvement and the further deterioration of the workers’ rights, and refusal to register new unions, we urge the government to take the necessary action to make sure that Kazakhstan respect its international obligations.”

The Committee will decide on further measures on Kazakhstan at the end of the session on 19 June.