Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wealth fears Workers in Kazakhstan

BIG companies operating in Kazakhstan, anxious to avoid the kind of bitter struggle that culminated in riots last Deecember, are giving into quickfire strikes by workers, according to a report by Robin Paxton of Reuters, on the Mineweb site.

Seventeen people were killed and hundreds injured when police clashed with striking oil workers on December 16, 2011. Dozens of people were arrested. The Kazakhstan unions, with support from those in Russia and the International Confederation, are urging the Kazakh authoties to review the cases, investigate allegations of torture, and remove legislation which makes it a criminal offence to "call for social strife", a law which they say particularly hits trade unionists.

With gold, iron, copper, coal and uranium to be mined, Soviet-era steel plants and single industry towns, Kazakhstan is potentially a very rich country, its $185 billion economy the largest in Central Asia.

Big mining companies including Glencore-controlled Kazzinc and London-traded Kazakhmys and ENRC, have reaped bumper profits on record-high commodity prices. They count some of the country's richest men among their shareholders. But the workers who produce this wealth say they are struggling to keep up with inflation, and that after they have paid higher rents and power prices they have not enough to feed their families.

State repression is not effective in quelling the unrest. Kazakhmys, the world's 11th-largest copper miner, found this out in May. Around 80 miners refused to leave the Annensky mine when their shift ended. More than 200 joined the underground sit-in. Also in May, steel workers held a rally to demand a 30 percent hike in base salaries on top of an inflation adjustment of 7.4 percent.

ArcelorMittal Temirtau, the world's biggest steel producer, paid its coal division employees an average monthly salary of $915 last year, an increase of slightly more than 12 percent on the previous year. IThis year, the company has offered both its steel and coal workers a 10 percent increase in base salary. It's a compromise that was accepted on June 19 by the coal miners' trade union, on the understanding that talks will resume when markets improve.

But that may be some time. As Paxton notes, "...the spectre of labour dissent has been compounded by a recent downturn in the market. Copper prices, for example, have fallen by nearly a fifth in the last year as concerns mount over Europe's debt crisis and slowing economic growth in China.

"ArcelorMittal's Temirtau plant faced an even more sudden shock to demand when Western financial sanctions on Iran closed the door overnight on a market that accounted for a considerable portion of the mill's sales last year.

"Vijay Mahadevan, chief executive of ArcelorMittal Temirtau, said the government had advised the company to resolve its labour issues peacefully. Talks with the steel workers' union are continuing."

Trade Unions Letter
(This can also be signed on line. See Labour Start site below)

Kazakhstan: Justice for oil workers!

In partnership with the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Kazakhstan, the Confederation of Labour of Russia, and supported by the International Trade Union Confederation

Over a period of several months, court trials related to the tragic events in Zanaozen of 16 December 2011 have taken place. Many months of dispute between oil workers and the management of oil companies, with the connivance of the authorities, resulted in disorders, violence and the uncontrolled use of force by police, which caused the death of 17 and injuries to dozens of people. Not only oil workers were killed and injured, but also citizens of Kazakhstan who had no involvement with the labour conflict.

Dozens of people, whose involvement is contestable, were subsequently charged. Many of them were sentenced to different terms in prison. During the process, international observers, representatives of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and OSCE, human rights defenders and journalists recorded numerous violations in the trial processes. Almost all defendants and some of witnesses stated that they were tortured in the course of the investigation, but the trials were not suspended. The trials were conducted in an environment of extreme tensions and close to a state of emergency measures in the region.

The international trade union movement demands that the sentences be reconsidered, that all cases of torture and provocation be thoroughly investigated, and that national legislation that envisages criminal responsibility for “calling for social strife” and that is used selectively to put pressure on trade unionists, human rights activists and public figures, be changed.

For Reuters report on companies etc:

While international trade unions are calling for the end of repression, the Kazakh government has one well-known -and well-paid - one-time "Labour" leader promoting its cause and polishing its image, as best he can considering his own is so despised here:
Kazakhstan president sacked son in law after oil unrest:

Which brings us to the Windsor Connection:

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