More than 600 coal miners in Kazakhstan’s Karaganda region have gone on strike in a demand for higher salaries and an improvement to working conditions.
The scale of the strike is notable for Kazakhstan, where authorities take a dim view toward industrial action and have regularly taken strict punitive action against ringleaders.
On December 11, laborers at four mines owned by ArcelorMittal Temirtau declared that they would refuse to leave the work site at the end of their shift, the Karaganda regional administration said.
Company representatives and regional officials quickly embarked on talks with the striking workers. Law enforcement personnel is said to be at the site.
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.
Workers are also demanding medical coverage, an upgrade of their equipment and the lowering of the retirement age to 50. The average retirement age in Kazakhstan begins from 63 for men and 58 for women, although that figure tends to be lower for those working in heavy industry.
The wives of some of the striking workers have reportedly said that their husbands are owned several months worth of unpaid bonuses. They also complained that prices for groceries in Shakhtinsk, the city where ArcelorMittal Temirtau is based, are higher then the rest of the region.
Some of those complaints echo the historic grievances of oil workers in the west of Kazakhstan, which has seen the bulk of the country’s industrial action. One months-long sit-in in the city of Zhanaozen culminated with violent clashes between police and striking workers that left more than a dozen people dead.
ArcelorMittal Temirtau’s press office said on December 12 that talks were ongoing. The company said it was providing workers with food, clothing and lighting, and that medical workers are on standby to assist in the case of emergencies.
ArcelorMittal Temirtau controls eight mines in the Karaganda region. Work is proceeding as normal in the mines not affected by the strikes, according to officials.
But a representative for the Korgau coal workers union, Marat Mirgayazov, has said work at all eight mines has in fact come to a halt.
“The only operations that are ongoing are those needed to preserve life — pumping out water, ventilation. There is no mining going on, and the repair bridages have stood down too,” Mirgayazov was quoted as saying by Informburo news website.