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'Our Only Chance': Workers Of Kazakh Railway Company Go On Strike

Some 300 workers gathered in front of the administrative building of their employer, Tranco Zhezqazghan, in the city of Zhezqazghan.'

ZHEZQAZGHAN, Kazakhstan -- Workers of a Kazakh railway company linked to the copper mining giant KazakhMys have gone on strike to demand pay raises and improved work conditions.

Some 300 workers gathered in front of the administrative building of their employer, Tranco Zhezqazghan, in the city of Zhezqazghan in the central Qaraghandy region on December 11, saying that they had to take action after their previous demands had not been met.

"We have tried to persuade our employer and regional officials to solve the problem with our low salaries for months. Our representative was fired after he tried to reach KazakhMys Director Eduard Ogai, and we were all warned that we would be fired if we continue pushing forward with our demands," one of the strikers, Aurika Balymova, told RFE/RL.

"This strike is our only chance. Prices have been on the rise for years, but our salaries have stayed the same. When we start to openly talk about it, they pressure us."

Another worker, who introduced himself as Artur, told RFE/RL that due to the dilapidated state of the rails, trains often derail and that all expenditures linked to delays and repairs are covered by workers.

"We often have to pay for fuel ourselves as the company does not provide us with a sufficient amount of fuel. The salaries are too low and because of that my child is not attending his kindergarten anymore, as I do not have enough cash to pay for it," he said.

Officials of KazakhMys and Tranco Zhezqazghan were not available for comment, while the Zhezqazghan city administration’s press service told RFE/RL that the worker's salaries will soon be increased and an annual bonus paid by January 1.

KazakhMys -- which is owned by Vladimir Kim, a close friend of Kazakhstan’s first president, Nursultan Nazarbaev -- is Kazakhstan's largest copper producer and one of the largest in the world.

The company works in the central Qaraghandy Province, where it also has coal mines and operates several power stations, including a hydropower and a solar power station, according to the company. It employs 46,000 people.

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