A coal miners' strike in north-central Kazakhstan has spread to more mines with 684 workers spending two nights across eight coal mines in Qaraghandy Region refusing to return to the surface. They are demanding higher salaries and better benefits.
ArcelorMittal initially announced that about 200 coal miners staged sit-ins across four mines operated by its unit in Kazakhstan, but the number seems to have grown since. The workers are demanding wage increases of 100%, better healthcare and an earlier retirement age. ArcelorMittal Temirtau officials told RFE/RL that new contracts were being drafted to reflect the miners’ main demand.
ArcelorMittal operates a total of eight coal mines in Kazakhstan. Workers' strikes in the mining and energy sectors are not uncommon during winters in the country.
Kazakh Labor Minister Tamara Duisenova told reporters on December 12 that the salary for a mine worker who works above ground stands at about KZT208,000 ($621) while a miner extracting coal receives KZT326,000 ($973) per month.
The Kazakh unit - a branch of global metals giant ArcelorMittal, which is owned by Indian billionaire Lakshmi Mittal - said in September that it was negotiating a new collective agreement with steelworker and miner unions and planned to sign it before the end of the year.
Earlier in December, dozens of striking copper miners demanding wage hikes, also in Qaraghandy Region, refused to return to the surface until on December 3 Kazakh copper giant KazakhMys came to a consensus with the leaders of the strike on raising salaries.
Following labour strikes in the oil town of Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan, which ended in clashes that killed at least a dozen people in December 2011, the government promised to improve labour relations and “modernise trade union institutions”.
Human Rights Watch argued last November that instead of introducing the promised changes, the Kazakh authorities imposed burdensome registration requirements on trade unions as well as requirements for mandatory affiliation with higher-tier unions that stand at “stark odds with internationally protected workers’ rights” that allow employees to freely organise.
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