Kazahkstan’s State Oil and Gas Company Besieged by Striking Oil Workers from Zhanaozen

Employees of the Zhanaozen oilfield service company Kezbi LLP were in the capital demanding higher wages and better working conditions for over two weeks. The reason for the workers’ march on Nur-Sultan was the sacking of some strikers and management’s unwillingness to settle the labor dispute at the company.

Striking Zhanaozen oil workers outside KazMunayGas headquarters in Nur-Sultan

A strike of workers at Kezbi LLP in Zhanaozen has been underway since April 18. More than 300 people are involved in the protest. For almost a month, workers have demanded improved working conditions and wage increases. On the seventeenth day of the labor dispute, the company filed a lawsuit against twenty-one employees, and twelve employees were fired for participating in a strike that had earlier been ruled unlawful by a court.

Nevertheless, despite the pressure, the workers have refused to end the strike.

According to the protesters, they are dissatisfied with low wages, numerous violations of their labor rights, and discrimination. Separately, the employees highlight the serious wear and tear of production equipment, which poses a danger to their lives.

Amid the escalation of the conflict, a group of delegates went to Kazahstan’s capital in early May to get the truth [sic]. Twenty-six workers visited the Energy Ministry, the Prosecutor General’s Office, and the state-owned oil and gas company KazMunayGas. The oil workers reported that, during negotiations, the Ministry asked to give them time to resolve the issue.

However, without waiting for any concrete actions to resolve the labor dispute on the part of state representatives, the workers moved to “besiege” state agencies and the offices of KazMunayGas.

According to the protesters, there should have been many more envoys, but a number of Kezbi employees who had also planned to fly to the protest site to support their colleagues were unlawfully detained by regional law enforcement agencies. Some of them were threatened as well.

On May 16, after a whole day of silence by agencies and officials and heightened attention from the capital’s civil society groups, the authorities announced that they had created a commission that would be charged with resolving the labor dispute. According to the workers, the working group includes the chief state labor inspector, inspectors from other regions of the country, and officials from KazMunayGas, who have already left for Zhanaozen.

Satisfied with this response, the protesters left the KazMunayGas offices and headed home.

The workers hope that the main issues will be resolved in dialogue with commission. They want to be paid for a twelve-hour working day, receive a wage increase, sign a collective labor agreement, and be transferred to the staff of Ozenmunaigas.

Law enforcement officers watched the protesters the entire time but did not intervene.

Source: Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, 17 May 2022. Thanks to Kirill Buketov for the heads-up. Translated by the Russian Reader. Watch this space for a subtitled version of this recent documentary film about the massacre of striking oil workers in Zhanaozen in December 2011 and its aftermath. I translated the subtitles of this detailed, harrowing film earlier this year.

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