As Zhanaozen’s birthday approaches, summer labor strikes worry Kazakh authorities

There have been several major labor strikes in Kazakhstan this summer and as the 10th anniversary of the tragic events in the city of Zhanaozen approaches, the Kazakh authorities must question the potential for unrest.

Most of the strikes took place in the oil province of Mangystau in western Kazakhstan, but it was not only oil workers who stopped working.

A higher salary was the common demand, which in some cases included a “13th month” – or extra month – of salary; partial or full payment to sanatoriums for employees working in areas with toxic fumes; reimbursement for COVID-19 tests; and more milk.

But there are deeper issues that fuel these conflicts, first and foremost the presence of foreign workers and the perception among many Kazakh workers that these foreigners have better wages, that local managers are paid much better than workers and that workers’ unions are constantly under pressure Kazakh officials.

Another strike in Zhanaozen

Some 600 employees of the KEZBI company – which repairs and maintains oil wells – went on strike in Zhanaozen on June 30.

It is often very dangerous work. In November 2013, 28 people from KEZBI were hospitalized after being poisoned on a construction site. Two of them died.

KEZBI has been present in Kazakhstan since 1992 and currently employs around 1,200 people, which means that half of the workforce was on strike on June 30.

December 16 marks the 10th anniversary of the day police opened fire on oil protesters in Zhanaozen. At least 16 people were killed.

The workers had warned The management of KEZBI on June 21 that they would stop working if their demands – which included doubling their wages, additional pay for working on public holidays and access to sanatoriums – were not met.

A week later, management partially responded to workers’ demands, agreeing to raise wages by 50 percent, give bonuses when work was finished, and pay allowances of 146,000 tenge (about $ 340). to employees to go to sanatoriums.

The sale of oil from the province of Mangystau helped fill the state coffers, build the new Kazakh capital, Nur-Sultan (formerly Astana), and enrich a small group of people. But little of the wealth has been used to improve life in western Kazakhstan.

Mangystau is mainly made up of the Kyzyl-Kum Desert, which is very hot in summer and very cold in winter.

The province is also one of the most expensive places live in Kazakhstan. Almost everything that is needed to survive, including water, must be brought to the cities, many of which were built exclusively for workers in the oil industry.

Related companies united with oil workers

For many, wages are insufficient to keep up with the rising cost of basic commodities, so it was foreseeable that strikes would break out somewhere.

But it was perhaps less predictable that workers at so many different companies would follow the lead of the first strikes this summer.

Workers in Zhanaozen of the Oilfield Equipment and Service Company and the Aqtau Oil Service Company announced that they were on strike July 21 and wanted higher wages and food to be available on the construction sites.

A week later, in the town of Karazhanbas, 174 workers from Industrial Service Resources, which assembles equipment and repairs oil wells, declared they were on strike until their pay was doubled, they received a thirteenth month’s pay, and there would be no more pressure on their union.

In the town of Karazhanbas, 174 workers at Industrial Service Resources, which assembles equipment and repairs oil wells, said they were on strike at the end of July.

In the town of Karazhanbas, 174 workers at Industrial Service Resources, which assembles equipment and repairs oil wells, said they were on strike at the end of July.

More than 30 of the 150 workers of Batysgeofizservice, a geophysical research company for oil wells, based in Zhanaozen, announcement they were on strike on July 19, demanding a 50 percent pay rise and 30 days of vacation per year.

Several transport companies working for oil companies have also gone on strike, including some 130 workers from Munayspetssnabkompani, which transports goods for Ozenmunaygaz and Ozenmunayservis, which stopped working the 15th of July. They demanded that their wages be doubled because their monthly wages of around 110,000 tenge (around $ 258) were too low.

Some drivers said management had already threatened to fire them and find replacements if they did not return to work.

Around 200 drivers at Kunan Holding went on strike July 19, demanding that their salaries be doubled, although management agreed to give them a 20% raise on July 15.

Drivers on strike at Kunan Holding on July 19.

Drivers on strike at Kunan Holding on July 19.

KMG-Security workers also went on strike July 13. The company provides security for the Mangystau oil fields owned by Ozenmunaygaz.

Workers said new hires get 57,000 to 60,000 tenge (about $ 130 to 137) per month, and even people with 20 years of experience only get 80,000 tenge (about $ 187).

KMG-Security staff demanded that their salary be increased to 150,000 tenge (approximately $ 351) per month.

Karazhanbas security officers announced their support for KMG-Security workers on July 16 and stopped working, claiming their salaries barely made ends meet. They also wanted their monthly salary increased to 150,000 tenge ($ 351).

Food services have also joined the series of strikes.

In Zhanaozen, dozens of Caspian Catering Service employees went on strike July 27, worker monitoring at KMG EP Catering three days later.

Employees of the Caspian Food Service in Karazhanbas stopped working on August 4, demanding that monthly wages be increased to 220,000 tenge (approximately $ 515).

Lenin’s milk

Workers at NBKS, a company that provides cleaning and janitorial services at Ozenmunaygaz facilities, went on strike July 21, demanding doubling of their wages, extra pay for working on public holidays, extra money for sanatoriums, special benefits for mothers who worked there, hot meals to be included when working and milk is provided to them.

According to Kazakh law, at least half a liter of milk must be provided daily workers in areas where they are exposed to toxic chemicals, toxic fumes or radiation.

This practice dates back to Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, who issued a decree in 1918 that employers must supply milk to workers at the Putilov Machinery and Metallurgy Plant (later renamed the Kirov Plant) to prevent workers to be hungry. It was later expanded to include workers in hazardous industries, such as the petroleum industry.

Other industries join

Numerous strikes have also taken place outside the oil industry and its support companies.

Forty-five ambulance drivers in Zhanaozen went on strike July 15 demanding that their salary be doubled.

Paramedics on strike in Zhanaozen.

Paramedics on strike in Zhanaozen.

Tazalyk-S workers in Zhanaozen announced that they were on strike on July 19. The company is responsible for cleaning the streets and public spaces in Zhanaozen.

Workers wanted their wages to be doubled and to be provided with regular items essential for their work – special equipment, gloves, soap and more milk. The workers said they had been making the same requests since 2020.

Ozenenergoservis workers said on July 25 that they refused to work unless their wages were doubled. Ozenenergoservis supplies electricity to Zhanaozen. The workers threatens cut off electricity throughout the city, with the exception of hospitals, maternity wards and essential city facilities, if their demands were not met.

And the strikes were not only in the province of Mangystau.

On July 12, workers from Almatymetrokurylys, the company that builds the Almaty metro, refused to go to work until their wages – which they say are between 50,000 and 90,000 tenge – were doubled, they received a thirteenth month’s wages and they received their milk.

Aqtobe bus drivers went on strike on August 19, demanding payment of back wages. The company made the payments on August 21 and the bus drivers returned to work.

Almost all of the strikes were eventually resolved, but not all.

At least three workforce the strikes were still going on at the beginning of September, the longest strike at the Zhetibay site in Mangystau province of some 500 employees of West Oil Software, which stopped working on August 23.

Like a recent report from The Diplomat noted, there have been more labor strikes in Kazakhstan in the first six months of 2021 than there have been overall for the period 2018-2020.

December 16 will mark the 10th anniversary of the day police opened fire on oil protesters in Zhanaozen. At least 16 people were killed.

Then as today, Ozenmunaygaz was at the center of manpower problems.

Kazakhstan had never seen anything like it in all its years of independence. Maybe Zhanaozen is the reason why companies have been more receptive to demands from workers, who usually don’t get everything they want, but some of their demands are met.

An exchange of words during the KEZBI strike shows how tense the situation can become.

One of the strikers of this company told the Kazakh service of RFE / RL, known locally as Azattyq, that deputies from the “maslikhat” or provincial council, had come to meet with the strikers on July 4. The deputies belonged to the Ak Zhol party and the ruling Nur-Otan party.

One of them, Maksat Makishev, addressed the workers, saying: “We are deputies whom you elected. To which the strikers replied: “You have been appointed to your posts; the people did not elect you.

The partial success of this unprecedented number of strikes in Kazakhstan ensures that more will come, as companies claim to strikers their finances are often out of their control pending tender results or approval. new state budgets.

It does appear that the workers and management of the many companies that make up Mangystau’s oil industry are once again on a collision course.

Based on information from Azattyq correspondent Saniyash Toiken and Azattyq digital editor Mukhtar Senggirbay.

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