The law provides for the right to organize and form unions. On September 1, officials reported that 53,217 collective agreements were signed as a result of a prounion collective bargaining campaign initiated following a widely publicized 2008 mining accident in Satpayev. The campaign, designed to empower workers, has increased the number of agreements by 15 percent since 2008. As of September 1, 28.8 percent of all enterprises and 90 percent of all unionized enterprises had collective bargaining agreements. Independent union organizers described this campaign as a significant change in policy.
The law protects the rights of unions to conduct their activities without interference, and unions were free to recruit new members, conduct meetings, and bargain collectively with employers. The law permits collective bargaining and collective agreements; unions and associations engaged in collective bargaining in practice. The government continued its efforts to encourage collective bargaining. Labor unions reported 53,217 collective bargaining agreements. Activists stressed that political pressure was driving the rapid conclusion of agreements. The labor law provides that an individual contract between an employer and each employee sets the employee’s wage and outlines the rights and responsibilities of the employee and the employer.
The law provides for the right to strike but exercising this right is subject to numerous legal limitations. The government limited conditions under which those working for one of a list of industries and enterprises providing essential services, such as railway, civil aviation, military, law enforcement, fire services, health, and other services that provide for major life needs where strikes were permitted only under limited conditions, could strike. In general, workers may strike only if a labor dispute has not been resolved through existing compulsory arbitration procedures. Striking workers must give 15-day advance notice to employers. The law neither sanctions nor prohibits the firing of employees for participation in an illegal strike.
Foreign workers have the right to join unions; however, the law prohibits the operation of foreign unions and prohibits the financing of unions by foreign legal entities and citizens, foreign states, and international organizations. Workers are protected by law against antiunion discrimination,
Organizers reported that the government continued to restrict the right to organize, and most workers were not able to join or form trade unions of their choice. The government exercised considerable influence on organized labor and favored state-affiliated unions over independent unions. To obtain legal status, a trade union must apply for registration with the Ministry of Justice. The registration procedure is broadly similar to that of other membership organizations.
The largest trade union association, the Federation of Trade Unions, the successor to formerly state-sponsored Soviet-era labor organizations, remained affiliated with the government. The federation united 26 industrial national unions and 13 regional unions. The industrial unions represented workers in a wide range of industries, including oil and gas, construction, textiles, education, and public health. Each union elects its own leader and has a representative on the General Council, which elects the 14-member Executive Committee. The committee runs the federation’s day-to-day operations and deals with issues of social and economic protection, labor protection, organization, and international cooperation.
Union demands that are unacceptable to management may be presented to a tripartite commission composed of government, employer association, and labor union representatives. The government was supposed to be the neutral broker on the commissions, but there were cases in which it favored the interests of labor unions or employers. The tripartite commission is responsible for developing and signing annual agreements governing most aspects of labor relations. Through this mechanism, labor unions raised the minimal wage for several industries, including mining and metallurgy, and forced employers to pay back salaries in a number of industrial areas during the year. Employers occasionally used individual contracts to weaken collective bargaining power.
In practice there were reports of employers providing arbitrary justifications for firing employees who had attempted to organize strikes and there were multiple violations of the law protecting workers from antiunion discrimination. The violations ranged from threats of being fired, which would lead to the loss of social benefits, to physical intimidation and assault. Activists and trade union leaders in a variety of sectors have fallen victim to these firings, harassment campaigns, and physical attacks.
In May workers initiated three separate labor strikes at oil and gas companies in the Mangistau region. The workers, the majority of whom were drivers, at Karazhanbasmunay (KBM), OzenMunayGaz (OMG), and Yersay Caspian Contractors (Yersay) demanded an increase in salaries, a revised collective bargaining agreement, and fewer restrictions on the activities of independent labor unions. Following the resolution of the Yersay strike, the KBM and OMG strikes continued, with a dwindling number of participants estimated at 1,000. The OMG and KBM fired approximately 400 people on the legal justification that an employee can be fired if absent from work without permission for 20 days. Following a December 16 to 17 incident in which authorities shot into crowds of rioters related to the ongoing strike and other social grievances, the government established temporary municipal employment for all fired workers at their former wages. Authorities claimed to have arranged permanent employment with over 20 private companies.
During the strikes police detained three strike leaders, including Natalya Sokolova, a Russian citizen and former director of human resources at KBM. On August 8, a court convicted Sokolova of inciting social discord and sentenced her to six years in prison. The OSCE characterized the punishment as harsh and cited credible reports of due process violations, including reports that the presiding judge refused to admit into evidence a video recording in support of Sokolova’s defense and denied her motions to summon witnesses.