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Kazakh Oil Company Director Fired Amid Massive Strike

Thousands of OzenMunaiGaz workers on strike in Zhanaozen
Thousands of OzenMunaiGaz workers on strike in Zhanaozen
ZHANAOZEN, Kazakhstan -- The director of the OzenMunaiGaz energy company was fired today amid a strike by thousands of oil workers in southwestern Kazakhstan, RFE/RL's Kazakh Service reports.

Baqytqali Biseken was appointed as OzenMunaiGaz's director in December. Several thousand of the company's workers have been on strike since March 4; one of their major demands was Biseken's sacking.

The strike in the town of Zhanaozen was sparked by the company's decision to change the wage scale for workers, which they said reduced their salaries.

Several dozen people -- including students and pensioners -- rallied in support of the striking workers on March 15 on Zhanaozen's central square and demanded a meeting with OzenMunaiGaz management and Kazakh Oil and Gas Minister Sauat Mynbaev.

One participant in the rally, Nursulu Otarbaeva, told RFE/RL that the striking workers are entitled to a response to their demands from company management. Otarbaeva added the protesters want Mynbaev to come to Zhanaozen and assure workers that OzenMunaiGaz shares have not been sold to Chinese companies and will not be sold to them in the future.

Zhanaozen city administration official Orak Sarybopeev told RFE/RL on March 15 that it had received an official letter from the rally participants. Sarybopeev said the "situation has almost been resolved." He added that the company's existing wage scale will be preserved and that OzenMunaiGaz management said it will resign if strikers do not return to work.

But on March 14, KazMunaiGaz Exploration Production CEO Kenzhebek Ibrashev called on the striking workers unions and employees to start negotiations and to set up a conciliation commission. But union leader and striker Tabyn Ergenov told RFE/RL the strikers do not believe a commission can resolve the conflict. Ergenov said the strikers want to meet with the senior management of KazMunaiGaz -- the parent company of OzenMunaiGaz -- and Mynbaev and find out if OzenMunaiGaz shares have been sold to any foreign investors.

Meanwhile, the strike is continuing. Ergenov said the strikers have filed an appeal against a March 10 court ruling that declared the strike illegal.

KazMunaiGaz's press service told RFE/RL on March 15 that efforts to establish a constructive dialogue with the strikers had failed. It said the
company is prepared not to apply disciplinary measures to those strikers who return to work. It also called on the strikers to make up for the missed work days so that the company can fulfill its monthly production plan.

The press service added that although the number of workers on strike has decreased, the decline in production is increasing and equaled 7,300 tons as of March 15.