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Eurasianet

Eurasianet

Eurasianet is an independent news organization that covers news from and about the South Caucasus and Central Asia, providing on-the-ground reporting and critical perspectives on…

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Oil Workers Fired As Strike Rages On in Kazakhstan

  • West Oil Software in Kazakhstan announces the dismissal of 50 employees engaged in a strike that began in December, citing daily financial losses of millions of dollars.
  • The company justifies the mass firings based on a December court ruling declaring the strike unlawful and warns of further dismissals if the strike continues.
  • Striking workers demand employment in subsidiaries of the state oil and gas company KazMunaiGas for higher salaries and better job security, while facing intimidation and smear campaigns from company officials and local press.
Kazakhstan

An oil services company in western Kazakhstan whose operations have been hampered by a strike that began in December has escalated the standoff by announcing that it will dismiss 50 employees involved in industrial action. 

The firings, announced by West Oil Software on February 27, represent the company's largest mass dismissal since the strike started.

The company has stated that the strike is costing it millions of dollars daily, with the financial damage to date around 1 billion tenge ($2.2 million). It cited a December court ruling, which declared the protest unlawful, as the legal basis for the dismissals.

“For the vacant positions that appear, we will recruit from among the citizens currently seeking employment,” the company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, West Oil Software has sought to sow discord among the strikers by pledging that even dismissed employees are eligible to get their jobs back before any new hires. The company urged holdouts to follow the example of their 120 or so colleagues who crossed the picket line. More dismissals will follow if the strike persists, West Oil Software warned.

It is unclear how many will heed these warnings. The Vlast news website quoted protesting workers as saying they are “already used” to layoffs and that they intend to stand fast until their demands are met.

Around 500 West Oil Software workers began a strike on December 11, demanding employment in subsidiaries of the state oil and gas company KazMunaiGas, or KMG, which they believe would secure them higher salaries and better certainty of long-term employment.

Reprising a theme often heard among disgruntled oil industry workers in the Mangystau region, strikers have argued that the decision, adopted in 2018, to sever ties with KMG subsidiaries where they previously worked and to transfer employees was a cost-cutting measure that led to stagnation in salary growth.

Organizers of the West Oil Software action have said that in addition to pressure from the company, they are also being targeted with smear attacks. They specifically pointed to local press articles claiming the strikes were instigated by dishonest activists working for nebulous outside "forces."

“They want to show us as greedy and bad, that we are trying to organize something [illegal],” Vlast quoted one worker as saying.

The police have weighed in too. Law enforcement officials told the Orda.kz news website that they have received reports of West Oil Software workers being intimidated by strike ringleaders. Police are investigating the allegations.

Other companies in the Mangystau region have been more successful in defusing industrial action.

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At the end of January, another protest broke out at the Kezbi drilling company. Around 800 workers downed their tools to demand higher wages, improved catering, and an internal investigation into claims of corruption. That strike ended within one day following apparently fruitful negotiations in which management agreed to fulfill the demands of the workers.

By Almaz Kumenov via Eurasianet.org

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