Kazakhstan shuts down independent trade union body

By bne IntelliNews January 11, 2017

A Kazakh economic court on January 4 ordered the permanent closure of an independent trade union body, the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions of Kazakhstan (CITUK), Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on January 10.

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 in November that the Kazakh authorities, instead of introducing the promised changes, imposed burdensome registration requirements on trade unions as well as requirements on mandatory affiliation with higher-tier unions that stand at “stark odds with internationally protected workers’ rights” to be able to freely organise. The shutdown of CITUK continues this trend.

“By shutting down this trade union organisation the authorities have taken a worrying step backwards” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Kazakhstan has made an international commitment to protect freedom of association, but this decision does the opposite”

“If Kazakhstan wants to fulfill its global ambitions, also as an international investment hub, it should start by upholding international labour standards,” Williamson added. The ruling took place a day after Kazakhstan’s attendance of its first meeting of the UN Security Council, on which it has been awarded a non-permanent membership for two years.

Larisa Kharkova, the confederation president, told HRW the hearing was conducted in a way that underscored the judiciary’s lack of interest in hearing the trade union’s case. The HRW’s report noted that three other affiliated industrial unions were also at risk of liquidation in a related legal action by the ministry.

The justice ministry accused the confederation of failing to confirm its status as a national union within six months of its registration in accordance with a 2014 restrictive trade union law. The law imposes burdensome registration requirements on trade unions that do not respect internationally protected workers’ rights to organise.

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