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Kazakhstan: union leader, prisoner of conscience, is released

29 May, 2018Nurbek Kushakbayev, deputy chair of the KNPRK and labour inspector of the trade union of Oil Construction Company (OCC), was released from prison in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan on 28 May. His colleague Amin Yeleusinov, former chair of the OCC trade union, was released a week ago.

The local court decided to release Kushakbayev on parole on 10 May. The decision was not contested and the release became effective on 28 May. He was released the day the International Labour Conference (ILC) of the ILO began in Geneva. At the ILC last year, IndustriALL and other international and national union organizations raised the case of the imprisoned leaders in conjunction with the trade union rights violations in the country.
Kushakbayev was sentenced on 7 April 2017 to two and a half years for instigating an illegal workers’ strike against the dissolution of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (KNPRK), to which OCC trade union was affiliated.
The OCC union itself is facing dissolution. On 4 May, at the hearing of its case in the court of the city of Aktau trialing dispute between union members and Berik Bekbayev, appointed by the employer as acting chair of the OCC union after Yeleusinov’s arrest, it became known that the OCC union had already been liquidated in April by the decision of Mangystau regional economic court based on the Mangystau governor’s lawsuit. The union is trying to appeal the decision of the Mangystau court. The hearing of the appeal will take place on 30 May.
The Oil Construction Company is a part of KazMunaiGas, the largest state oil and gas company in Kazakhstan. KazMunaiGas is known for its notorious involvement in the major labour dispute at Zhanaozen which resulted in riots with 17 killed and many protesting workers wounded in 2011.
On 22 May, workers of the Oil Services Company, another subsidiary of KazMunaiGas, refused to work, demanding an end to lay-offs and better working conditions. The company has developed a 5/50 programme, inviting workers to resign and receive compensation worth 50 per cent of five-years’ wages.
Workers of pre-retirement age, as well as those whose health was deteriorated due to working in harmful conditions, agreed to the proposal of early retirement. However, most workers do not want to lose their jobs. The authorities promised to consider the workers’ demands within a month.

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, says:

“We are pleased that our brothers Amin and Nurbek are freed, however they faced large fines and are not fully exonerated from the charges. After their release on parole the union leaders will not be able to occupy leading positions in public organizations including trade unions for other five years. The international trade union movement expects that the Kazakh authorities change the law on trade unions, bringing it into line with international labour standards, primarily with ILO Convention Nos. 87 and 98, so that workers can create and join trade unions by their own decision, without any interference of the state.”