Copper giant denies suffering of its workers and victimisation of their representatives
On Monday 28 September, Berik Zhakiparov from Zhezkazgan was joined by socialists and trade unionists outside the London offices of KazMinerals plc. The company dominates his home city in Kazakhstan. It exploits tens of thousands of workers in its copper mines, processing mills and smelting works. As I have seen for myself, it pollutes the air and the rivers of the city and of the surrounding countryside.
Over the years, the company has extracted huge profits – up to €200 billion in 10 years, salted away abroad. Yet it refuses to invest in new machinery or safety equipment to ease the burden of its workers and eliminate the horrific rate of deaths and injuries at its plants. The company refuses to pay decent wages or to allow genuine trade unions to be formed. When worker activists speak up they are victimised – harassed or sacked.
Before picketing the London headquarters of KazMinerals in Victoria Street, London, I wrote to the company on behalf of supporters of Campaign Kazakhstan and the National Shop Stewards’ Network to explain why Berik was in London. I telephoned their office on a number of occasions, asking to speak to the Chairman of the company – Vladimir Kim or one of the several English members of the Board. Berik was particularly keen to meet not only Mr Kim but also the head of the Health and Safety committee of the company (who has never visited the actual workplaces!). Berik wanted to put across to both of them how workers feel about the life-threatening working conditions in the company’s plants.
The reply from the company’s receptionist was always that there was no one in the office that we could speak to. Later we received a letter from the Company Secretary of KazMinerals saying his company was now separate from Kazakhmys, which is based in Karaganda, and that it had perfectly good relations with its workers!
When we eventually found the sumptuous offices of Kazminerals in Cardinal Place, some very large private security guards were waiting for us. There were also some casual observers sitting or walking around – obviously from the Kazakhstan embassy and taking a lot of photos!
One of the office guards reluctantly agreed to convey our request for a company representative to come and meet us. Berig had a petition with him that had been signed by more than 300 trade unionists and activists during the week he had been in Britain which he wanted to hand over personally. When the security man returned, he said no one could meet us and would not give any name of who had told him this! We took all of this to indicate a guilty conscience and a direct link between KazMinerals and Kazakhmys!
The demonstrators on Monday held up placards demanding better wages and conditions, an end to deaths in the work-place, the reinstatement of sacked workers’ leader, Erlan Tabinov, and hands off Maksat Esenbayeva and all worker activists.
These demands can be supported by using the petition sheet on this site here.