“He opened our eyes.” Toizhan’s face lit up as she recalled how the leader of her trade union, Amin Yeleusinov, first began spreading the word about worker rights.
Yeleusinov started working at Oil Construction Company (OCC) in the western Kazakhstani city of Aktau in early 2011. In the run-up to August that year, he roused his colleagues into putting together a new collective agreement with their employer. Before long, OCC workers enthusiastically voted him in as their union rep.
“When Amin Yeleusinov turned up, everything became better. Until that point, we had another union. We didn’t even know what a collective agreement was. It was a dark forest to us,” Toizhan told EurasiaNet.org, sitting in a fellow OCC employee’s apartment. Like all OCC workers interviewed by EurasiaNet.org for this story, Toizhan asked to be identified only with a pseudonym for fear of potential repercussions for speaking openly about the situation.
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Peter Leonard is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor. Aigerim Toleukhanova is an independent journalist based in Kazakhstan.