While Kazakhstan was ringing in the New Year, protesting workers at the West Oil Software, a company based in the restive west, continued in their so-far unsuccessful attempts to get the ear of top officials.
The workers in the Mangystau region have for weeks been holding pickets in a push for better working conditions.
“[Late last month], they submitted another appeal to the authorities, stating that they had sent their representatives to [the capital] Astana, but the authorities refused to meet with them," Radio Azattyk, the Kazakh service of RFE/RL, reported on January 1.
Just a few days earlier, several workers, mostly heavy equipment drivers, announced that they were heading to Astana to meet with officials to vent their frustration in person. But in a widely circulated video from December 30, a group of workers who reached the capital revealed that they were unable to secure a meeting with members of the Majilis, the lower house of parliament.
“Where is the 'listening state'?... Until a fair decision is made, we won't end the strike,” they were quoted as saying by Azattyk, deploying a phrase coined by President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev in an effort to be taken seriously as a political reformer.
Around 500 workers, who began their strike on December 11, are demanding to be employed in subsidiaries of state oil and gas company KazMunaiGas, or KMG, which they believe would secure them higher salaries. They claim that while the majority of employees earn no more than $1,000, West Oil Software incorrectly claims figures twice as high as that.
West Oil Software has shown little inclination to deescalate. It dismissed 26 protesting workers within days of the strike commencing. It was supported in that move by a court ruling declaring the planned dismissals to be legal.
KMG argues that the demand from workers to be reintegrated into its ranks is unattainable since this would infringe upon the rights of other unemployed individuals in the region who have applied and are awaiting potential employment by KMG.
The Mangystau region is home to numerous oil and gas companies and has witnessed numerous worker strikes, primarily based around pay rise demands, over the years. While employers have at times caved to demands and initiated negotiations and sought some consensus, this time it looks like there are no signs that West Oil Software intends to meet the protesters halfway.
Almaz Kumenov is an Almaty-based journalist.