Kazajstán - Two trade unionists arrested, while the creation and existence of trade unions is jeopardized in the country through the application of the 2014 trade union law

On 21 January 2017, two trade union leaders – Mr. Nurbek Kushakbaev, deputy chair of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (CNTUK), and Mr. Amin Yeleusinov, chair of the CNTUK’s affiliate Trade Union of Oil Construction Company – were arrested because they called for a strike action.

Mr. Yeleusinov and Mr. Kushakbaev decided to call for collective action in response to a decision of an economic court in the southern city of Shymkent that ordered the closure of the CNTUK by 4 February 2017 for its failure to re-register provincial branches in at least nine of the country’s 16 regions. Before the ruling, the court rejected the union’s request to postpone the hearing to allow the defence to prepare, and denied all motions by the union, such as to question witnesses.

The harsh ruling was, therefore, the outcome of discriminatory behaviour in the application of procedural law, and the enforcement of a prohibitive trade union law adopted in 2014, broadly criticised for being in breach of international labour standards regarding freedom of association. Under the recently introduced trade union law, unions are obliged to register in at least half of the country’s provinces within six months from their establishment at national level. In the case of CNTUK, the registration process itself proved to be biased. Indeed, more than 25 trade unions were refused registration on arbitrary grounds.

The refusal to register trade unions and to de-register CNTUK was denounced by several international observers as an “egregious violation” of internationally guaranteed workers’ rights. On 5 January, around 90 workers started a hunger strike to protest these decisions. The hunger strike rapidly spread and, by 17 January, almost 400 workers had joined the hunger strike at the Manghystau’s Qalamqas and Zhetybai oil fields.

Workers all over Kazakhstan are demanding that the ruling party - Nur Otan - registers CNTUK. However, Nur Otan’s regional branch is ignoring the request and denying having ever received any petitions from oil workers.

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