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Kyrgyz unions struggle for compliance with core labour standards

26 November, 2021During an online solidarity meeting on 25 November, IndustriALL and its affiliates in the CIS region reiterated support to the struggle of Kyrgyz unions for fundamental workers’ rights and democratic unions.

Leaders of IndustriALL affiliates in Kyrgyzstan updated the 40 participants on recent developments in trade union movement and law reform. Other union leaders from the region spoke on fighting similar challenges in their countries.

Kyrgyzstan is a newcomer to the ITUC Global Rights Index 2021, with a rating of 4: Systematic violations of rights both in law and in practice.

Unions in Kyrgyzstan have been under threat since April 2019, when parliament introduced a draft law on trade unions, seriously undermining freedom of association and depriving unions of their independence by establishing a monopoly of the Federation of Trade Unions of Kyrgyzstan (FTUK), putting all unions under its control.

After the FTUK dismissed its chair, who pushed the anti-union legislation, and elected a new leadership in February 2020, unions held multiple protests against the draft law. Authorities responded with interreference into the trade union affairs, prosecuting union leaders, constant interrogations, provocations and pressure.

Since then, an ILO project has been supporting the trade union movement by providing legal assistance to defend the interests of union leaders who have been subjected to administrative arrest, interrogation or other harassment by the state, said Gocha Aleksandia from the ILO Bureau for Workers’ Activities (ACTRAV).

However, the FTUK ex-chair refused to resign and held a fake election in December 2020, proclaiming himself the chair. This led to the existence of both the real and the fake FTUK with opposite goals; the real one is struggling for fundamental labour rights, while the fake one is fighting for personal power. 

“This split in the union movement creates a negative image of unions and creates a difficult working environment,”

says Eldar Tadjibayev, chair of the Mining and Metallurgy Trade Union of Kyrgyzstan (MMTUK).

“There is a need to negotiate and agree with other unions in the country, as the split disturbs union activity in all sectors and affects workers’ protection,”

says Almash Zharkynbayeva, chair of the Trade Union of Workers of Textile, Paper and Allied Industries Workers of the Kyrgyz Republic. 

Anton Leppik from the ITUC-PERC argued that there should be a unified trade union approach. Participants agreed on the need of mediator to assist the Kyrgyz unions to find a common way within a sole FTUK. Upon Kyrgyz unions’ joint request, a mission of global unions led by the ITUC could be an option.

Since 2019, numerous objections to the draft law on trade unions have been submitted by international organizations, including IndustriALL, the ITUC, the ILO and the UN, as well as by unions from around the world. This has resulted in a Presidential veto twice, in May and August 2021, and requests to parliament to revise the draft law in line with international labour standards.

However, this was not followed in the third version of law on trade unions adopted by the parliament on 20 October, which does not take into account the repeated comments of the ILO, the position of Kyrgyz unions and the President’s comments, as it still violates the Constitution and international obligations, including ILO Conventions 87 and 98.

IndustriALL Global Union and the ITUC again called on the President of Kyrgyzstan to veto the new law on trade unions – for the third time this year.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan says:

“Every worker should be able to join the union of his choice without interference, have the protection of a collective bargaining agreement, and be able to exercise the right to strike. Independent unions are key and that is non-negotiable. If there is an attack on these fundamental rights and trade union independence in any country of the world, IndustriALL Global Union will support our affiliates.”