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Kazakhstan: ArcelorMittal prosecutes unions after underground protest

ArcelorMittal filed lawsuits against two unions and a rights organization in connection with a strike at company mines in Karaganda at the end of 2017, despite previously committing to not prosecuting workers for their participation in the strike.

The Metallurgical Workers' Union Zhaktau, affiliated to IndustriALL through the Trade Union of Mining & Metallurgy Workers of Republic of Kazakhstan, today received a summons to appear in Temirtau court on 13 February. The union is accused of urging miners to continue their strike in December 2017 and defend their demands under any circumstances. The company claims that this destabilized the operation of the mine, prevented the strike from ending, impeded negotiations between the employer and employees and blocked workers from returning to the surface.

Chairpersons of the rights organization Miner's Family, founded by widows of deceased miners, and a branch of the Industrial Trade Union of Fuel and Energy Sector Employees, an affiliate of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions (KNPRK) which was dissolved by the authorities, both received similar summons.

Chair of Metallurgical Workers' Union Zhaktau, Viktor Shchetinin, said:

“The lawsuit was a complete surprise for us. Our union represents workers of the steel department at ArcelorMittal Temirtau while the strike took place in the coal department. The company wants to punish us for the moral support of our colleagues, for the fact that we once brought protesters food. This is the first time that a company has sued a union on the issue of trade union solidarity”.

According to the Mineworkers’ Union Korgau, the other union at ArcelorMittal Temirtau, four miners working under fixed-term contracts were dismissed immediately after the strike, when the company refused to renew their contracts. Workers appealed to the union for help. Currently Korgau is trying to find a way to reinstate them.

Around 700 workers were on strike underground at all eight coal mines owned by ArcelorMittal in Kazakhstan from 11 to 15 December 2017. They demanded a 100 per cent wage increase, early retirement and better working conditions. ArcelorMittal Temirtau management agreed to a 30 per cent wage increase for all underground workers and said they were also ready to negotiate an increase of wages for ground workers. ArcelorMittal Temirtau stated in a letter to the regional prosecutor that the company would not sanction the strikers.