Kazakhstan: Union Leaders Jailed, ITUC Takes Case to ILO

The ITUC has lodged a formal complaint with the International Labour Organisation over the unjustified imprisonment of two oil industry trade union officials, as well as government refusal to recognise the rights of workers in a range of sectors to organise independent trade unions.

The two officials concerned, Amin Yeleusinov and Nurbek Kushakbayev, have been sentenced to two and two-and-a-half years’ jail respectively, in trials conducted without due process. The authorities attempted to make Yeleusinov sign a false confession, and he has fallen ill due to the conditions in his prison cell and the harsh detention regime.

Kushakbaev has been ordered to pay 75,000 Euros in compensation to Techno Trading Ltd on top of his prison sentence, and he has been banned from any “public activities” for two years after his sentence is served. The charges against the two arose from a hunger strike of some 300 oil workers in protest at the government’s decision to dissolve their national trade union centre, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan. Many of the workers were arrested, tried together on the same night, and made to pay fines of over 500 Euros each – more than the average monthly salary.

The protest followed a series of administrative actions by the authorities starting in 2015 to deny registration of unions in the oil, health, construction, media and education sectors along with regional union bodies, as well as the independent trade union centre at the national level, depriving workers of their legitimate rights to union membership and collective bargaining. The Chairperson of the national centre, Larisa Kharkova, has been subjected to administrative and judicial harassment since the beginning of this year, and she is now facing a series of bogus criminal charges.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said “the authorities have been systematically violating Kazakhstan’s own laws and Constitutional guarantee of freedom of association. This is damaging to the country’s international reputation. Workers who simply want the right to union representation have been subjected to harassment, judicial persecution and clandestine monitoring. We are again calling on the government to respect its obligations under domestic and international law, and in light of its refusal to do so to date, we are taking this case to the ILO in a further effort to see that fundamental workers’ rights are respected.”