Kazakhstan: Union Organizer Jailed for Helping Strikers

A court in Kazakhstan has sentenced a trade union activist to two-and-a-half years in jail for his role in a recent labor dispute.

The presiding judge in the Almaty courthouse in the capital, Astana, Aizhan Kulbayeva, ruled on April 7 that Nurbek Kushakbayev had violated a law by encouraging workers to participate in an unauthorized strike.

Kushakbayev was charged for his involvement in strike mounted in December by several dozen workers at a company based in western Kazakhstan and called Techno Trading Ltd. The workers declared they were going on a partial hunger strike in a demand for improved working conditions and an increase in their wages. Kushakbayev is accused of giving strikers advice on how to formulate their demands.

“Kushakbayev offered them his consultation, gave them more effective tips on how to mount a strike, and specifically suggested that they declare a hunger strike, gather as many people as possible and not be afraid of the police,” prosecutor Kanat Daribay said in the opening hearing in late March.

Daribay said that the protest set Techno Trading Ltd back by around 25 million tenge ($79,000). It is not clear how this amount was calculated, but the court rule to also require Kushakbayev to pay that amount in compensation.

Although Kushakbayev was convicted for his involvement with the Techno Trading Ltd strike, the episode for which he had mainly drawn the ire of the authorities was the more recent standoff between employees and management at Oil Construction Company (OCC) in the city of Atyrau. Workers there complained that recently adopted legislation had deprived them of the right to have their own independent trade union representation, in violation of Kazakhstan’s international obligations. In a bid to force the government to stand down, the workers went on hunger strike, but were eventually forced to relent in the face of fines and the threat of further legal action. Kushakbayev assisted the strikers by giving them legal advice about how they should behave.

As a matter of routine, authorities refuse to sanction any form of protest, particularly those involving labor disputes. This means workers have few legal recourses to raise complaints.

The Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights reacted to Kushakbayev’s conviction by stating: “The ranks of those people sentenced on political grounds has grown again.”

“The real reason for this entire show was to quash what remains of the union movement,” the bureau said.

Kushakbayev’s trial will now be followed by another one reserved for Amin Yeleusinov, who was the leading union representative at OCC. It is not yet known when those proceedings will begin.

Kazakhstan: Union Organizer Jailed for Helping Strikers

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