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ILO Slams Kazakhstan for Long-Standing Labor Rights Abuses

Government Urged to Fully Implement Reforms

A worker prepares pipes to service an oil well on oil fields operated by a subsidiary of the KazMunayGas Exploration Production JSC in Kyzylorda region, southern Kazakhstan on January 21, 2016. © 2016 Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has slammed Kazakhstan – again – for harassing union leaders.

At the ILO’s annual conference, earlier this June, Kazakhstan drew the ire of the Committee on the Application of Standards, which reviews states’ compliance with international labor rights conventions.

Kazakhstan has been reprimanded by the committee multiple times since 2015 for violating the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention (ILO C87). But this year, the committee issued its most extensive and strongly worded conclusions and recommendations yet, instructing the government to “stop judicial harassment practices of trade union leaders” and review the cases of individual union leaders, who they named by name.

During the discussion, the Kazakh government representative argued that in May 2020, the government had adopted amendments to the 2014 trade union law and said that “we do not feel there are any problems with Kazakhstan’s law or practice in regards to the Convention.”

But the law had been repeatedly criticized for limiting the right of workers to form and join trade unions of their own choosing. And just months after the changes to the law were adopted, Kazakhstan’s Justice Ministry suspended an independent industrial trade union for six months. Additionally, wrongfully convicted trade union leaders are banned from engaging in trade union activities, and the independent Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Kazakhstan, shut since January 2017, has not been able to register anew.

Fortunately, many worker representatives responded to the Kazakh official by detailing labor rights abuses in Kazakhstan, the hostile environment for worker organizing, and the challenges independent trade unions face.

So too did the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada, all of which expressed concern about the lack of meaningful progress on labor rights in Kazakhstan.

In the end, the ILO committee pulled no punches, noting “the long-standing and persistent nature of the issues.” The committee required the Kazakh government to accept a direct contacts mission by the ILO to Kazakhstan to assess the situation and for the Kazakh government to report back to the committee before next year’s conference on “measures taken… to comply with the Convention.”

Kazakhstan has to start implementing meaningful labor reforms if it wants to avoid further embarrassment on the global stage. More importantly, such reforms are essential to protect Kazakhstan’s workers from rights abuses.

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