In Kazakhstan, the Solidarity Center supports the right of workers to unionize in the face of harsh government opposition to unions, and monitors working conditions and violations of core labor standards to help support workers seeking to exercise their rights.

Kazakhstan’s vast hydrocarbon and mineral reserves have made the country the leading market in Central Asia. Yet despite Kazakhstan’s relative economic prosperity, worker rights are actively violated and undermined by employers and the government.

In recent years, the political environment in Kazakhstan has become alarmingly anti-worker and anti-union. In July 2014, the government of Kazakhstan passed a labor union law requiring all independent labor unions to affiliate with the large government-controlled national federation. A labor code passed in 2015 limits the rights of workers to make claims against their employers and another passed in 2016 leaves many labor-related issues at the discretion of employers, specifically giving them significant leeway with respect to dismissal of workers. The requirements workers must meet before they strike are stringent and complex, and even when workers meet these legal requirements, courts have the power to declare strikes illegal at the request of the employer.

Independent union leaders and members have been targeted for their activism against these laws and regulations that violate international conventions on freedom of association. Trade unionists have been arrested, harassed, intimidated and otherwise persecuted for their work. The law dictates that striking workers can be fired, fined, and jailed if and when courts declare their strikes illegal. The government has conducted a brutal campaign to intimidate union members and to malign and discredit the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, harassing and jailing its leaders.

The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Labor Organization (ILO) has brought these infringements to the attention of the Kazakh government, but the government ignored this input when drafting legal changes and continues to violate international human rights regulations.

Every year, hundreds of Kazakh workers are injured on the job, and scores are killed. These deaths and injuries most often are attributed to antiquated equipment, insufficient detection and prevention of occupational diseases and general disregard for safety and health standards and regulations.

The Solidarity Center is an advocate for freedom of association and all other core worker rights, and it recognizes that reversing government attacks on the right of workers to associate freely is not only vital to improving working and living conditions in Kazakhstan but is also critical in reversing the persistently closing space for the practice of democracy.