Tag Archives: OzenMunaiGaz

Esenbek Ukteshbayev on the Trade Union Struggle in Kazakhstan (video)

(Via socialismkz.info)

Last Saturday, Esenbek Ukteshbayev, president of the fighting independent trade union in Kazakhstan, Zhanartu, spoke in London. He brought home to an audience of more than 500 UK workers’ representatives and activists the atrocities carried out by the Nazarbayev regime against striking workers and their representatives. His address brought the sixth National Shop Stewards’ Network conference to its feet out of respect for the tremendous struggle being waged against the murderous dictatorship in his country. (Campaign Kazakhstan)

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campaignkazakhstan.org

All but four Zhanaozen defendants found ‘guilty’
June 05, 2012

Zhanaozen city is reportedly surrounded by Internal Ministry troops in advance of the sentencing of the thirty seven oil workers and their supporters on Monday. Supporters of those on trial are planning further protests in Zhanaozen and Aktau.

Only 3 of the 37 have been cleared of all charges. Twenty one of those on trial were sentenced to either 2 or 3 years in prison, with the sentence suspended or, in a couple of cases, subject to amnesty. Thirteen activists, however, received real prison sentences ranging from three years to, in the case of Roza Tuletaeva, seven years.

Roza, a mother of three children, was one of the leading activists in the oil strike. During the trial she related how she nearly suffocated when bags were put over her head during interrogation and she was beaten with iron rods. She suffered other indignities, which she was too embarrassed to tell the court openly as her friends and relatives were present.

It is widely reported in the international press that the events of 16th December resulted from riots caused by the oil workers after seven months on strike. This is an attempt to shift the blame from the Kazakhstan state. The oil workers had planned a peaceful demonstration on 16th December.

Yet according to his court testimony given during this trial, a senior police officer was dispatched with police troops to Zhanaozen on 14 December. Instead of tear gas, rubber bullets or water cannons, weapons and live rounds were issued. Video footage from the conflict shows police firing into unarmed and peaceful protesters, often shooting people in the back. The government admits 15 people were killed, yet no charges have been lodged against the interior minister, who said he had given the order to open fire.

To avoid blame being directed at the regime itself, the General Prosecutor picked out a number of scapegoats from the local authorities and police to put on trial. Undoubtedly guilty of the crimes for which they were charged, they, nevertheless, have served the role of letting higher up figures off the hook.

Five police officers, charged with “exceeding their authority” by shooting live weapons into the crowd, received sentences of between 5 and 7 years. The Head of the Police prison, where a prisoner was so badly beaten that he later died, received 5 years for “not calling an ambulance on time”!  A former mayor and three managers of the KazMunaiGaz company also received sentences of seven years for stealing from the city’s funds and from money that should have been paid by KazMunaiGaz to local welfare funds.

More arrests and torture
Even though these sentences appear strict, they are for crimes that resulted in the death of up to 70 people, the torture and death of protesters while in police custody and the theft of literally billions of tenge from state funds. That similar sentences have been handed out to the oil workers and their supporters indicates that the regime has just been taking its revenge on the workers. None of the workers were carrying arms or can be deemed responsible for violent acts, but on the contrary conducted themselves in a peaceful and disciplined way and ended up as the victims of the police massacre and subsequent regime of terror.

It is now reported that another wave of arrests and torture is taking place. Up to 15 more activists from the oil strike, along with leaders of the opposition political party Alga, are expected to be put on trial for “inciting social discontent” with a possible sentence of up to 12 years.  Large numbers of trade union activists from the OzenMunaiGaz company are being called in for questioning, in an attempt to intimidate them from organizing a new strike. Following questioning, one 51 year old activist committed suicide.

However, local trade union activists report that the workers are still determined to protest, whether outside the City mayor’s office or by preparing new strikes in the region. According to one of the local leaders, the next trial is being prepared, not to take revenge for the last strike, but to try and prevent the next one.

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Kazakh Massacre Cover-Up

Kazakh Massacre Cover-Up
By Robert Jones
The Moscow Times
27 May 2012

Six people were convicted last week for instigating riots on Dec. 16 in the Kazakh city of Zhanaozen. Kazakh leaders and prosecutors claimed all along that the massacre was organized by “a group of former oil workers aided by a number of young people,” but this is patently untrue. Even the European Parliament in early March “strongly condemned the violent crackdown by the police forces.”

The workers of Ozenmunaigaz and a neighboring oil company had been on a peaceful seven-month strike over wages and trade union recognition. Even before Dec. 16 they were attacked by riot police. In August, one of their leaders, Zhaksylyk Turbayev, was killed on his way to a union meeting, and a few weeks later the daughter of another activist was killed. Natalya Sokolova, their lawyer, was sentenced to six years in prison.

In the absence of meaningful negotiations either by the employer or the government, the oil workers called for a peaceful demonstration on Dec. 16. They appealed for the resignation of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his government.

The authority’s response was decided in advance. According to his court testimony, a senior police officer was dispatched with police troops to Zhanaozen on Dec. 14. Instead of tear gas, rubber bullets or water cannons, weapons and live rounds were issued. Video footage from the conflict shows police firing into unarmed and peaceful protesters, often shooting people in the back. The government admits that 15 people were killed, while eyewitnesses say the number of victims is much higher — about 70. Nonetheless, no charges have been lodged against the interior minister, who said he had given the order to open fire.

Notably, not one policeman was seriously wounded in the conflict. This undermines the outrageous government claim that “oil workers attacked police officers and innocent bystanders.” It is clear that no attempt was made to use ordinary crowd-control methods, such as tear gas and water cannons. Instead, riot police using automatic weapons opened fire without warning on the unarmed crowd.

Sentences of three to seven years are now being handed down for the 49 oil workers on trial, several of whom had friends and family members killed in the massacre. Yet an incredible picture has emerged during the trials, during which defendants testified about how security forces imposed a curfew and reign of terror, arresting all they thought were linked to the strike.

One defendant, Kairat Edilov, testified that he was offered protection by the police if he agreed to give evidence against 15 others. After refusing, he said the police beat him, covering his head with a bag and nearly suffocating him. He claimed his investigator, Bakyt Mendybayev, put a pistol to his head several times. Other prisoners testified how they had been stripped naked, thrown outside and periodically doused with cold water when temperatures were minus 15 degrees Celsius.

One prosecution witness testified that he had helped one defendant to loot an ATM. But a day later, he returned to testify under his real name and retracted his earlier statement. Explaining his false testimony, he said he was beaten by the police after his arrest on Dec. 27. “I shook all night from fear and cold,” he said. “I couldn’t get hold of myself. I asked the investigator where I should go because the city was under curfew. On my way home, I was again arrested by soldiers. They were in masks and started beating me again.” The police, he said, had threatened to suffocate him with a plastic bag if he did not follow their instructions.

In April, Human Rights Watch issued the following statement: “Kazakhstan needs to show that it has a zero-tolerance policy toward torture by suspending the trial and conducting an immediate, impartial and effective investigation.” Yet on May 11, the Prosecutor General’s Office demanded long prison sentences for those currently on trial.

The Kazakh prosecutor general recently said it is important that “our international partners are able to see that justice is being done.” Yet the government recently refused visas to a delegation led by Paul Murphy, member of the European Parliament, to visit Aktau.

The attempt to blame the Zhanaozen massacre on the strikers without bringing the law enforcement officials who were responsible for the killings and subsequent beatings and torture to justice shows how far Kazakhstan’s authoritarian regime is willing to brutalize its citizens.

Robert Jones is the coordinator in Russia for CampaignKazakhstan.org.

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Kazakhstan: Stop police violence against strikers!

www.labourstart.org

Kazakhstan: Stop police violence against strikers

Police attack strikers.On Friday December 16th a celebration of Independence Day in the Western Kazakhstan city of Zhanaozen ended up with violent clashes between police and protesting oil workers who have been striking since May, demanding wage increases. It has been reported that oil workers planned to have a peaceful rally on Zhanaozen’s main square but were attacked. According to report we have received, armed police were sent against the demonstrators. Some reports say the police used their weapons and some protestors were killed or injured.

Please send a message to the Kazakhstan authorities calling on them to cease violence against their own people.

Suggested message:

I call upon the government of Kazakhstan to immediately cease violence against peacefully protesting oil workers and their families in the city of Zhanaozen. I believe that no government should ever use weapons against its own people. Violence against workers exercising their fundamental right to strike is absolutely unacceptable. This situation might have grave social and humanitarian consequences. Therefore I urge you to use all your power to to resolve this situation it in a peaceful and just manner.

Please go here to send this message or your own message to Kazakh authorities.

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blog.platformlondon.org

December 16, 2011

London listed oil company at centre of Kazakh crackdowns

 

Today The Guardian reports that at least 10 people have been killed in violent clashes between police and oil workers in Zhanaozen, a small city in western Kazakhstan. Local oil workers have been protesting for higher wages and better working conditions throughout 2011. The oil and gas companies, among them KMG, (KazMunaiGaz) which is 39% owned by investors on the London stock exchange, and Ersai Caspian Contractor, a joint venture owned by Italian firm ENI, have sacked hundreds of workers for striking. Police have responded with arbitrary arrests, detention and shootings. The Financial Times suggests the number of recent casualties could be much higher:

An independent source in Astana put the death count as high as 70, with more than 500 wounded, when police fired on protesters.

In this guest blog, journalist Peter Salmon explores the background and root causes of the strikes and the repression that has rocked the Kazakhstan throughout 2011.

Repression intensifies against Kazakh oil workers’ uprising

by Peter Salmon

The Kazakh authorities have responded to the oil workers’ revolt with arrests, jailings and police attacks on demonstrations, while company managements have sacked hundreds for striking. Despite the repression, the unprecedented wave of protests, which erupted in the oil-producing province of Mangistau in mid-May, was continuing at the time of writing in late August. At the movement’s height in early June, labour movement sources reported that 12-18,000 workers were on strike, demanding pay rises and recognition of independent trade unions.

The protests started on 9 May at Karazhanbasmunai, a joint venture owned by Kazmunaigaz, the main state-controlled national oil company, and CITIC, a Chinese holding company. The immediate spark was Karazhanbasmunai’s refusal to recognise the results of a trade union election that had gone against a collaborationist official. On 9 May, 1400 workers refused to eat lunches and dinners, and on 17 May 4500 walked out. They demanded pay parity with workers at OzenMunaiGaz, KazMunaiGaz’s largest production subsidiary – who themselves had won a substantial increase in basic wages, and torpedoed company plans for a greater element of production-linked pay, with a 19-day wildcat stoppage in March 2010.[i]

On 11 May, activists called for a general strike across Mangistau region. Kazakh workers employed by Ersai Caspian Contractor, a joint venture owned by ENI, the Italian-based multinational oil company, and ERC Holdings of Kazakhstan, joined the protests. They demanded pay parity with foreign employees doing the same jobs, who they said were paid twice as much. Ersai refused to negotiate with the strikers, ten of whom went on hunger strike, and retaliated with sackings, according to a news agency.[ii]

In late May the action spread to the larger workforce at OzenMunaiGaz, where workers – including transport drivers and those conducting well servicing and well workover operations – demanded pay rises to make up for rapid inflation since their increase last year and the slashing of bonus payments. On 24 May a local court declared strike action at the company illegal, but on 26 May there was a mass walkout nonetheless.

The strikers in the three companies advanced various demands. The principle concern at Ozenmunaigaz was for a recalculation of the coefficients (i.e. regional weighting, industry premia, etc) on which pay depends, Kazakhstan’s main business newspaper reported. Other demands reported by the Association of Human Rights for Central Asia included: the right for independent trade unions (the Karakiyak union and others) to function; revision of collective agreements “on the principle of equality of parties”; a 100% wage increase to bring workers’ living standards up to minimum; and for wages and conditions to meet International Labour Organisation standards.[iii]

The strike now turned into a grand battle between the workforce on one side, and the companies and authorities on the other. KazMunaiGaz Exploration and Production (KMG EP), which owns all of OzenMunaiGaz and half of Karazhanbasmunai – and is itself state-controlled but with 39% owned by investors via a London stock exchange listing – announced that it now expected to lose 540,000 tonnes of oil production, 4% of its previously projected total of 13.5 million tonnes in 2011, due to the dispute. Ozenmunaigaz’s output had already fallen by 2% in 2010, mainly due to the strike in that year.[iv]

On 1 June, Natalia Sokolova, a lawyer who had advised the workers, was arrested and both OzenMunaiGaz and Karazhanbasmunai began sacking strikers. Tensions were heightened further when Sabit Kenzhebaev, a transport department manager at Karazhanbasmunai who had been instructed to sack strikers against his will, died of a heart attack. On 5 June, 500 Karazhanbasmunai workers gathered in Aktau, the capital of the Mangistau region, intending to march to the akimat (regional authority) building to protest – but were dispersed violently by police. Three strikers, including the prominent trade union activist Kuanysh Sisenbaev, were admitted to hospital with knife wounds after harming themselves as a protest. Local authority employees were instructed to go to work as strikebreakers, and threatened with sackings if they refused, according to labour movement information networks.[v]

During June, some strikers returned to work, but those who remained out grew more determined. Workers established a “tent city” in Zhanaozen, and on 8 July it was broken up by baton-wielding police – to which about 60 responded by pouring petrol on themselves and threatening to set themselves alight. Another thousand demonstrators were encircled by police outside the OzenMunaiGaz headquarters. There were repeated confrontations between police and a crowd of several thousand in the days that followed.[vi]

The movement has a political aspect. Not only was it first sparked by a row over union representation, and featured demands for the right to organise independent unions, but it has also led to mass resignations from Nur-Otan, Kazakhstan’s ruling political party. Workers at state-controlled enterprises are encouraged to join it, in a manner reminiscent of Communist Party recruitment in the Soviet period – and on 11 August a large group marched to the Nur-Otan regional headquarters in Zhanaozen to hand in their resignations. A spokesman told reporters that 3000 of them had quit, since they had been forced to join anyway, and their demands had not been met. The Nur-Otan regional leader, Koshbai Qyzanbaev, acknowledged only 1089 resignations.[vii]

As the summer wore on, the Kazakh courts and police stepped up repression against activists. Natalia Sokolova, the lawyer assisting the strikers, was on 8 August sentenced to six years in jail for “inciting social discord”; Akzhanat Aminov, a trade union leader at OzenMunaiGaz, and Natalia Azhigalieva, an activist, have been arrested and charged with the same crime, while Kuanysh Sisinbaev has been sentenced to 200 hours’ community service. On 16 August, Zhanbolat Mamay, a 23-year-old activist in an opposition political group, Rukh Pen Til, was arrested as he returned from Moscow – where he addressed a press conference and civil society meetings about the oil industry dispute – and sentenced to 10 days’ administrative detention. According to company statements, 373 OzenMunaizGaz employees and 160 from Karazhanbasmunai have been dismissed for “illegal” strike action. One activist, Zhaksylyk Turbaev, has been murdered by unidentified thugs.[viii]

The oilfield conflict makes a mockery of Kazakhstan’s long-standing efforts to present itself in the west as a democratic state, and human rights organisations in western Europe have not lost the opportunity to point this out. On 6 July, with encouragement from Amnesty International, the rock singer Sting cancelled a planned appearance in Astana at a $700-per-ticket concert, stating that he had “no intention” of crossing “a virtual picket line”. The legal persecution of labour movement activists has been denounced in the European parliament by Paul Murphy, a Socialist Party/United Left Alliance member of the parliament from Ireland visited Mangistau, and others.[ix]

The Kazakh oil workers’ struggle bears out the proposition of the labour historian Beverly Silver that “where capital goes, conflict goes”.[x] Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, western capital has made greater inroads into the oil sector in Kazakhstan than in Russia, where it has been somewhat constrained by statist and nationalist policies. In the last decade it has been joined by a gigantic inflow of Chinese capital. The Kazakh elite, who have been immensely enriched by the oil boom of the last decade, is the third part of the unholy trinity that workers face.

In Mangistau region, oil production has expanded at a healthy pace. But the riches have been divided unequally: while billionaires flourish, and living standards have risen in the new and old capitals, Astana and Almaty, Mangistau has in terms of the UN’s development indicators only been lifted to the national average, from below it. And, staggeringly, although Mangistau produces more oil than any other Kazakh region, in 2008 it had the highest proportion of people living below the poverty line (32.4%) and the worst poverty by the UN’s measures.[xi] The immediacy of this injustice, the stark chasm between rich and poor, and a tradition of worker activism that has resurged in recent years, is a potent mixture that has now exploded.


[i] “V Zhanaozene zakonchilas’ zabastovka neftianikov”, Ak Zhaiyk (Atyrau), 19 March 2010; “V Kazakhstane zavershilas’ dvukhnedel’naia zabastovka neftianikov”, Deutsche Welle web site, 21 March 2010, http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,5376521,00.html; Linksunten, “Kazakhstan: Mass strikes and protest action”, http://linksunten.indymedia.org/de/node/41875.

[ii] Almaz Rysaliev, “Kazakstan’s Unhappy Oil Workers”, Institute for War & Peace Reporting web site, 24 June 2011, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4e0b2a552.html; Central Asia Newswire, “Kazakh oil workers begin hunger strike”, 24 May 2011.

[iii] “Bastuiushchie udarili po RD KMG”, Kursiv, 30 June 2011; Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: vlast’ massovo raspravliaetsia s bastuiushchimi neftianikami”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/07/blog-post_12.html.

[iv] KMG EP press release, 28 June 2011; KMG EP annual report 2010, p. 26. The 2% fall was in comparison to 2009 output.

[v] “Krovavyi razgon demonstratsii rabochikh v Aktau”, IKD, 5 June 2011, http://www.ikd.ru/node/17048; “V Moskve proidet aktsiia solidarnosti”, IKD, 6 June 2011, http://www.ikd.ru/node/17053; Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: bezdeistvie vlastei”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/06/blog-post_5744.html.

[vi] Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: vlast’ massovo raspravliaetsia”, op. cit.

[vii] “Striking Kazakh Oil Workers Quit Ruling Party”, 11 August 2011,  Radio Free Europe, http://www.rferl.org/content/striking_kazakh_oil_workers_quit_ruling_party/24294248.html.

[viii] Nadejda Atayeva, “Kazakhstan: bespretsedentnoe davlenie na uchastnikov zabastovki”, http://nadejda-atayeva.blogspot.com/2011/08/blog-post_18.html; “Lider zabastovki neftianikov osuzhden”, Kursiv, 18 August 2011; KMG EP press release, 27 July 2011; “Bolee 400 bastovavshikh uvoleny”, Kursiv, 7 July 2011.

[ix] “Sting nakazal Kazakhstan”, Kommersant, 4 July 2011; the web sites of Sting Symphonicity and Paul Murphy MEP. Sting, who was touring the whole former Soviet Union and did not cancel dates in e.g. Belarus or Uzbekistan, was criticised for being selective in his protest.

[x] Beverley Silver, Forces of Labor: workers’ movements and globalization since 1870 (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003, p. 41).

[xi] UNDP Kazakhstan, National Human Development Report 2009, pp. 103-109.

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