Kazakhstan: Coal Miners End Strike After Compromise Reached
Mass industrial action at a coal mining company in Kazakhstan has ended with employers agreeing to an increase in salaries.
The strike was called off overnight on December 14 after management at ArcelorMittal Temirtau agreed to hike pay by 30 percent — considerably short of the twofold increase that the workers had been demanding.
The peaceable resolution of the worker protest will be greeted with relief by the authorities, who have drawn strong criticism in the past for their heavy-handed response to unauthorized strikes.
The 30 percent salary rise is applicable to those workers engaged in high-risk underground labor. Pay conditions for those not working at the coalface are still being negotiated.
The strike began on December 11, when hundreds of ArcelorMittal Temirtau employees refused to leave their workplace until their demands were met. Labor and Social Protection Minister Tamara Duseinova told reporters that the main demand coming from workers was for a twofold increase to salaries. Duseinova said that minimum salaries at ArcelorMittal Temirtau vary between $620 and $980, depending on the department.
Miners disputed those figures, however, and sent photos to the media of pay slips showing lower sums. Their argument is that the harsh and hazardous conditions in which they work warrants much more generous compensation.
When the 400 or so ArcelorMittal Temirtau employees announced their strike earlier this week, officials and company representatives initially reacted with a combination of openness to negotiation while also dangling the potential threat of prosecution. In an attempt to force the workers’ hand, ArcelorMittal Temirtau filed a court plea to deem the strike illegal. The court rule in the company’s favor and ordered the laborers to emerge from their workplace, which they had occupied in a gesture of defiance.
But before the close of the protest, local prosecutors in the Karaganda region gave assurances that strikers would not face charges if they ended their strike in a timely manner.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, President Nursultan Nazarbayev spent a formative period of his career in the Communist Party in the city of Temirtau, where ArcelorMittal Temirtau is based, and this may have helped add some urgency to efforts to end the standoff.
Dariga Nazarbayeva, a member of the upper house of parliament and the president’s eldest daughter, told reporters on December 14 that her father was aware of the situation at the mine.
“This region is not foreign to him. Its problems are of great concern to him. I am very sorry that ArcelorMittal management has allowed matters to reach this conflict situation,” Nazarbayeva was quoted as saying by Sputnik news agency.
Nazarbayev has not himself commented on the strike, however.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.