The arrest and detention of two union leaders in Kazakhstan marks an escalation in government attempts to silence unions it does not control.
KNPRK Deputy President Nurbek Kushakbaev and local union Chairman Amin Yeleusinov were arrested January 20 after oil workers, including the two leaders, began a hunger strike to protest the Kazakh government’s legal action to liquidate the confederation, while leaving intact a government-aligned federation. They were held in an undisclosed location for several days, union members told the Solidarity Center. Meanwhile, the government is engaged in a campaign to intimidate union members and to malign and discredit the KNPRK.
In a letter, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) denounced the government’s failure to guarantee the right to freedom of association and called on it to withdraw the request before the Economic Court. The AFL-CIO, in a letter to Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, said: “The dissolution of independent trade unions violates the internationally recognized right of workers to form, join and participate in trade unions of their own choosing that are free from government control.”
Workers in Kazakhstan face steep obstacles to forming unions that will defend their interests. The country adopted an onerous trade union law in 2014 that marginalized independent unions in favor of the government-controlled federation. The International Labor Organization has repeatedly called on the government to amend its laws regarding freedom of association for Kazakhstan’s workers.