Last week, on June 02, 2021, a meeting took place between representatives of the Oil Construction Company Workers’ Union affiliated to the Sectoral Fuel and Energy Workers’ Union with the management of the JSC “National Company “KazMunaiGas”. During the meeting the Union raised the issue of the refusal of the management of a subsidiary of “KazMunaiGas” to comply with the existing CBA, as well as a number of other issues.
The CBA in question was signed in 2011. It was signed on behalf of the workers by the Oil Construction Company Workers’ Union. Subsequently, in 2014 and 12015 the CBA was amended and supplemented. Now, using the court decision to temporarily suspend the activities of the Sectoral Fuel and Energy Workers’ Union, the employer no longer recognizes the CBA signed by a workplace union affiliated to the sectoral union.
“The Employer maintains that since the Union’s activities have been suspended , the CBA is now null and void”, says Kuspan Kosshygulov, President of the Sectoral Fuel & Energy Workers’ Union. “The Employer has chosen to ignore the fact that the CBA was signed by a union organizing and representing over 400 workers of the Oil Construction Company, Ltd.”.
It should be noted that the Employer turned to the authorities asking if the CBA was still in effect after the “dissolution” of the Union. The Employer received two mutually contradicting replies coming from two departments of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection of the Population of the Republic of Kazakhstan. The Department of Labour and Social Partnership expressed an opinion that the CBA remains in force after the dissolution of the Union and can only be declared null and void if the enterprise itself is liquidated. While the opinion of the Committee of Labour, Social Protection, and Migration was that the dissolution of the Union meant the termination of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
The KazMunaiGas representatives refused to concede to the Union’s request and provide any guarantees for the observance of trade union rights and the CBA. It has been reported that the company representatives suggested that the Union should turn to the Prosecutor’s Office requesting its decision as to which of the two positions stated by the two departments of the Ministry of Labour is the “correct” one.
The Union activists are of the opinion that the key to the whole situation is the position of the National Company itself on the matter. Should the Company management been interested in maintaining the social dialogue with the workers, this would have met no legal objections and served as a basis for improved engagement between the employer and the workers.
We should mention that another union has recently come into existence at the enterprise. It is reported that it is this union that the employer intends to sign a new CBA with. In the opinion of Kuspan Kosshygulov, the new union was created by the employer. “The employer does nothing to improve the social benefits package in accordance with the provisions of the CBA”, points out Kuspan Kosshygulov. “Moreover, the employer wishes to reduce the social benefits package stipulated in the Agreement. This is why he refuses to negotiate with our workplace affiliate and has created a second union organization”.
Another issue discussed during the meeting was the fulfillment by the Oil Construction Company, Ltd. and the JSC National Company “KazMunaiGas” of their commitments to annually increase wages. These commitments are enshrined in the Terms of Reference for the Uniform System of Labour Remuneration (USLR), which is annexed to the current CBA.
The Oil Construction Company Workers’ Union points out that the CBA contains a provision for the industry-specific pay rise coefficient in the oil and gas industry. In 2015, this coefficient was cancelled by a regulation of the Government of the Republic of Kazakhstan, but the relevant provision in the CBA was preserved. However, in the course of the meeting the KazMunaiGas representatives declared that, as the coefficient had been officially cancelled, this provision of the CBA became null and void and, consequently, the employer was under no obligation to increase wages by applying it.
The Union, on the other hand, points out that, according to the Kazakh legislation, Collective Bargaining Agreement provisions can improve on the norms and guarantees stated in the Law. So, even if the coefficient has been cancelled at the national level, it still remains in effect in the workplace in accordance with the concluded CBA.
The meeting participants discussed other issues including the employer’s refusal to use the check-off system and transfer the union membership dues to the Union, as well as the pressure put on the Union’s activists by the Oil Construction Company, Ltd.. For Instance, this pressure was faced by Zhanbolat Koptilov, vice-chair of the workplace union committee, a grade 3 external pipeline fitter. He has been with the company for 15 years and is the father of four children.
Zhanbolat and the Union’s activists link the pressure against him with his union activism. “I’m sure the employer will do all he can to frame me and fire me with cause”, says Zhanbolat Koptilov. “This is confirmed by the fact that the employer has refused to give me my annual holiday in accordance with the schedule.”
So, currently, the management of the Oil Construction Company, Ltd. refuses to engage in a meaningful social dialogue with the union organizing several hundred company workers who trust the Union to represent their interests, and creates barriers for the Union’s activities. The management of the JSC National Company “KazMunaiGas”, in their turn, believes that this situation is “normal” and does not require any intervention for the benefit of the workers.
The situation that has emerged at a specific enterprise in the Mangistau Region is not just another example of the violation of workers’ fundamental rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining in Kazakhstan, it also clearly shows the blatant unwillingness of employers at various levels to work towards any improvement of the situation in the social and labour sphere.