Around 200 oil laborers in the western Kazakhstan city of Zhanozen mounted five straight days of strike actions last week in protest at their employers’ plan to reduce working hours and cut salaries.
Memories are still raw in the city of events in December 2011, when a lengthy sit-in by striking oil workers culminated with unrest that was crushed with force by police, leaving more than a dozen dead.
The protest by employees of drilling company Burgylau took the form of them dropping tools for two hours daily. Notably, some of this news is being reported by loyal to the government, which represents a stark difference to 2011, when state media largely ignored industrial unrest in Zhanaozen.
One of the workers’ complaints is related to a string of what they are unfounded dismissals. Around 60 people have been fired in recent times, protesters said.
There is also unhappiness about the performance of trade unions. Workers have said the union has failed to address their complaints and they are demanding a change to the leadership. Unions in Kazakhstan are typically largely toothless bodies that do the companies’ bidding. Employees at Burgylau have said they want transparent reports on how their monthly 2,000 tenge dues to the body are being spent.
The union has defended itself from criticism, saying the strikes are unfounded and that rumors of unlawful dismissal were little more than rumors. It also said that it has received no reports that complaining workers are facing intimidation from the company, as has been claimed.
Burgylau employs around 2,000 people.
The protest in its current form represents a minor form of defiance and is unlikely to make a large dent in productivity, but the action is notable for its rarity. Kazakhstan’s energy sector is struggling to cope with falling global prices for oil, which has entered a new cycle of decline this past week, dropping to around $42 a barrel of Brent crude.