Oil Workers Suffer Abuse in Kazakhstan

By Irving Feng
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ASTANA, Kazakhstan – Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a report on Monday, September 10, accusing oil companies in Kazakhstan and the Kazakh government of abusing workers and violating their labor rights.  The report was published in response to a violent clash between oil workers and state police in the western Kazakh town of Zhanaozen.

Aftermath of the violent clash in Zhanaozen. (Photo courtesy of Eurasianet)

The oil workers were protesting unfair labor practices by the oil companies that employed them when police were ordered to come in and break up the peace demonstrations.  Twelve of the oil workers were killed when police opened fire on the protestors.  Three other workers died due to injuries sustained from the violent clash with police, and an additional 100 civilians were injured during the ordeal.

The HRW report featured interviews from the oil workers who highlighted a myriad of labor violations and abuses by the oil companies and the Kazakh government.  The workers complained about poor working conditions, inadequate pay and a general irresponsiveness exhibited by management when confronted with complaints.  The complaints were also allegedly met with threats and harassment by management.  Workers attempted to unionize but were their efforts were met with mass dismissals after carrying out peaceful demonstrations against the oil companies.  Oil companies dismissed approximately 2000 workers because of their peaceful demonstrations.

Workers interviewed also alleged that the police forces sent to break up the peaceful demonstrations were the same police forces used to stop political dissent in the region.  The tactics that the police forces used include intimidation, harassment and imprisoning workers who attempt to stand up for their labor rights.  Some workers who were sent to jail were also fined by the courts in the region after judges declared the strikes illegal.

Since last year’s violent clash with police, Kazakhstan has amended their labor codes to reflect modern international labor standards for workers’ rights.  Criminal action has also been brought against several of the police involved in the shootings of the peaceful demonstrators.  Five police officers have received prison terms and other criminal cases are still pending.

Western energy companies have invested heavily in this region’s oil fields.  Countries like the United States have strong interests in Kazakh oil since this alternative oil source can help alleviate their dependence on oil from the Middle East.  The three companies being accused of abusing the rights of the workers are OzenMunayGaz, Karazhanbasmunay and ERSAI Caspian Contractor.  Italian oil giant is a part owner in ERSAI Caspian Contractor.  Western companies have dismissed the unrest in the region, blaming the poor handling of the labor dispute as characteristic of the inadequate management of older Soviet-style businesses.

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Are workers protected in Kazakhstan? – 12 September 2012

Eurasianet – Kazakhstan: Watchdog Report Challenges Astana’s Version of Zhanaozen Violence – 10 September 2012

Human Rights Watch – Striking Oil, Striking Workers – 10 September 2012

New York Times – Kazakhstan Is Accused of Abusing Oil Workers – 10 September 2012

Author: Impunity Watch Archive