Renewed strikes and demonstrations in Kazakhstan
by Vladimir Rozanskij

The epicentre of the protests remains Zhanaozen. Oil workers are demanding better working conditions and higher wages. Kazakh government weak in the fight against unemployment, criticised for protecting only the oligarchs: the root cause of the recent riots.



Moscow (AsiaNews) - In the Kazakh city of Zhanaozen, workers of the Kmg-Security company, which is dependent on the oil giant Kazmunaygaz, have returned to the streets. By calling for a strike, they demanded higher salaries and full contracts directly with the oil company without intermediaries.

The strike began on the evening of 8 February, when security workers refused to report to the gates and remained in their sleeping tents. According to one of the leaders of the protest, Muratbek Tolegen, the management of the state-owned company is not respecting the agreements made in negotiations last summer.

The strikers recorded a video with an appeal to President Kasym-Žomart Tokaev, Prime Minister Alikhan Smailov, the heads of the company, the governor of the region and the mayor of Žanaozen. In it they point out that their working conditions are getting worse all the time because of the mediation firms. The workers demand a contract in accordance with the rules of the category, and a salary of not less than 200 thousand tenge (approximately 400 euros), as well as overtime. They also demand recognition of paid holidays, support for their families and an end to the persecution of them.

In June 2021, Kmg-Security had accepted an agreement, signed by the director Talgat Tokalov, but the workers denounced the failure to comply with it. About 1,200 people work at the Žanaozen branch, and the workers of the Burgylau oil company also joined them, with their own list of demands for the management.

All the strikers generally demanded an improvement in working conditions, which forced them to stay at the company even on public holidays due to shortages and excessive transport costs, living crammed into unseemly tents and shacks even during the most intense periods of the Covid-19 pandemic.

President Tokaev spoke at the government meeting, saying that in the Mangistau region, where Žanaozen is located, 'the dissatisfaction of workers' collectives is growing, despite the measures already approved', and indicated that all their demands should be more carefully considered.

The akim (governor) of the region, Abzal Mendibaev, proposed forming a commission to discuss new contractual conditions, but the workers' representatives refused, asking the management of the companies concerned to assume their responsibilities directly.

The protests took place in an orderly manner and without clashes, despite the strikers' strong desire for answers. The security forces monitored from a distance, without hinting at repressive action, but trying to isolate the protests to avoid infiltration from outside. In the cities, and especially in Almaty, all public demonstrations have been banned.

The dissatisfaction of Žanaozen workers is not only related to recent price and inflation problems, which are depressing the domestic market and depriving citizens of protection. It has been since 2019 that throughout Kazakhstan people have been denouncing the government's weakness in combating unemployment, concerned only with protecting oligarchic interests, and it was precisely this that triggered the January riots.