Kazakhstan: Mass strikes and protest action by oil workers in Mangystau Province

Workers for the Karazhanbas oil company began striking in early May.

Since late December 2010 there has been an industrial conflict between the workers represented by their union and the administration of QarazhanbasMunai JSC, a subsidiary of the national oil and gas corporation KazMunaiGaz. An Arbitration Board met in the winter. During that session the union raised the issue of paying the 1.7 wage coefficient for harmful working conditions and 1.8 regional coefficient in Mangystau Province to the workers. Another reason for these demands was that the workers of OzenMunaiGaz, an exploration an extraction company, also a subsidiary of KazMunaiGaz, managed to get these coefficients included in the CBA by going on strike in March 2010.


However, the company representatives — managers from the Chinese corporation CITIC, which has 50% of QarazhanbasMunai JSC assets — disrupted the work of the Arbitration Board with support from the Ministry of Labor representatives and the Attorney’s Office. Erbosyn Khosarkhanov, president of the QarazhanbasMunai JSC union, took side of the administration, rejecting the demands of the oil workers. Union activists refused to put up with the situation and launched a campaign for the reelection of the union president. However, they immediately faced a wave of repression conducted by company-hired thugs. In late January 2011 some union committee members were beaten by criminals. Police never filed charges against the thugs guilty of the crime, despite the fact that these persons were well-known.

In March and April QarazhanbasMunai JSC held a union president reelection campaign. During the workers’ conference on April 20, 2011 Erbosyn Khosarkhanov lost his position as union’s president, however the employer refused to recognize the results of the conference and hand over the documents and the seal from union’s office to the new leadership of the union. After that an intense conflict between the workers and the administration broke out. On May 9 a hunger strike began — 1400 people refused to have lunches or dinners in support of their demands. The key demand was handing over the founding documents and the seal to the new leadership of the union. However the administration, police, Attorney’s Office and the Kazakhstan National Security Committee took side of Erbosyn Kosarkhanov and organized repressions against union activists. This forced the workers to go on strike on 17th May. 4500 workers struck, 150 workers went on hunger strike.

Most workers on hunger strike have been fired by now. Their dismissal was conducted without following the established procedures, on a purely arbitrary basis. The strike was ruled illegal. QarazhanbasMunai JSC union lawyer Natalia Sokolova was arrested on May 25 for eight days for «conducting an illegal union meeting» under article 373 part 3 of the Administrative code (later the sentence was extended to 11 days). Acting president of QarazhanbasMunai JSC Mr. Yuan Mu announced on May 17 during the workers’ meeting that all the striking workers will be fired (i.e. threatened the employees with lockout) and then fired eight union activists right away. Women on hunger strike faced an especially brutal and cynical treatment from the administration.

Mr. Yuan Mu filed a claim to the Mangystau Province Ministry of the Interior, demanding that Natalia Sokolova should be charged with «fomentation of social hatred» under article 163 part 3 of the Criminal Code. The charges were indeed raised, and on May 31 the police conducted a search in Natalia Sokolova’s apartment, seized the computers and notes of the lawyer. Tens of union activists were charged with administrative offences (most of them in absence), one union member was arrested for five days.

26th May, 22 oil-workers of OzenMunaiGaz (Production Brunch of KazMunaiGaz) went on hunger strike in solidarity with QarazhanbasMunai. They were joined next day by 8000 of their co-workers who went on strike. Among their main demands there are: wage increase, payment of regional benefits to oil-workers and public-sector workers in the Province (i.e. teachers, doctors, nurses), nationalization of oil enterprises and re-establishing of the single production structure, all dismissed strikers to be reinstated and all charges against union lawyer Natalia Sokolova and union activist Akzhanat Aminov to be dropped.

17 hunger strikers were illegally dismissed by OzenMunaiGaz But they continue their hunger strike surrounded by 2000 workers in picket line. Massive picket line was set up to protect hunger strikers from police and secret service officials who are trying to break the action (during the last year protests tear gas and violence were used to break the hunger strike).

Workers of S.P.R.L. Ersai (subsidiary of KazMunaiGaz) are also on strike and hunger strike since the beginning of May demanding wage increases and better working conditions. Here more then 15 000 workers participate in the protests.

They might be joined by workers of other oil enterprises of the region and therefore the strike might become general.

Striking workers and their families are continuously intimidated, harassed and repressed. Province authorities started a propaganda campaign against the strike publishing and spreading leaflets proclaiming strike illegal. Internet connection in Zhanaosen (city in Mangystau Province) is turned off; mobile connection keeps getting interrupted. Internal military forces are brought to the Province; employers brought in some thugs that constantly try to set up provocations against strikers; there’s information that strikebreakers and police officers in KazMunaiGaz workers’ uniform are trying to mix up with strikers. Few times workers in Actau (capital of Mangystau Province) and other cities tried to march to protest the repression. Many were beaten (some are now in hospitals), hundreds arrested. Police tended to be excessively violent. Few activists injured themselves (by cutting abdomens or veins) as an act of protest against repression; two are in hospital in very severe condition as a result.

We receive news from Mangystau Province daily. Protests continue and violence and repression escalate.

Daily news updates on the situation can be found here: