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Prosecution of trade unionists in Kazakhstan

Question écrite de M. Kostas PAPADAKIS - Commission européenne

Question de M. Kostas PAPADAKIS,

Diffusée le 11 février 2024

Subject: Prosecution of trade unionists in Kazakhstan

A group of 500 workers employed by the West Oil Software company operating at the Zhetybai oil field in Kazakhstan have been on strike since 11 December 2023, demanding the replacement of dated equipment, better working conditions, and equal pay across all businesses in the sector.

Local courts declared the strike illegal on its second day, without any representatives or lawyers present to defend the strikers as the presence of representatives and lawyers was forbidden. Trade unionist dismissals followed and riot police were sent to the nearby town of Zhetybai to put pressure on the rest of the workers.

On 24 January, the district court declared the strike illegal. To add insult to injury, in an act of provocation, representatives of Kazakhstan's Ministry of Energy and managers at KazMunayGas branded the strikers ‘extremists’, with the latter now facing criminal investigations on charges of ‘inciting social hatred’. Bearing in mind that the EU is Kazakhstan’s biggest trade partner in the context of the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, how does the Vice-President of the European Commission and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, J. Borrell, view the following:

1. The unrelenting fight by workers in Kazakhstan for trade union rights and freedoms, for the right to strike to be respected and for the country’s authorities to revoke the court decision declaring strike action illegal?

2. The unacceptable criminal prosecutions against workers for participating in ‘illegal strike action’ and the accusations made against them for ‘inciting social hatred’ when they are simply seeking what is rightfully theirs?

Submitted:12.2.2024

Réponse - Commission européenne

Diffusée le 9 avril 2024

Answer given by High Representative/Vice-President Borrell i Fontelles on behalf of the European Commission (10 April 2024)

The EU is closely monitoring the respect for the rights of workers and raises the issue at all levels, including during regular dialogues with Kazakhstan's Ministry of Justice, raising concerns about the freedom of assembly and association and encourages constructive dialogue with workers.

The EU has and will continue to underline the importance of ensuring a safe enabling environment without fear of reprisals, including for trade unionists.

Concerns have been raised about the exclusion of trade unions from the government’s working group on labour legislation reform and the increasing number of detentions of human rights defenders.

Bilateral relations with Kazakhstan are governed by the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (EPCA) (1), including commitments to effectively implement fundamental International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions.

Kazakhstan was urged to abolish measures which unduly restrict trade union activities, in line with ILO Conventions and recommendations.

The EU urged the government to repeal Article 402 of the Criminal Code which criminalizes calling on workers to participate in a strike that has been found illegal by a court, stressing that this article is incompatible with the freedom of association, the right to organise activities, including the right to strike.

The EU underlines the importance of compliance with the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality in any measures taken against strikers.

The EU continues to follow closely amendments to legislation to improve human rights, including those related to trade unions and freedom of assembly and association, and stands ready to support dialogue and constructive engagement between the authorities and the workers.

1 ∙ ⸱ https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A22016A0204%2801%29 | | ( | | ) The EU looks forward to discussing these matters at the upcoming annual EU-Kazakhstan Human Rights Dialogue on 17 April 2024.

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