IWPR: Daring to Strike in Turkmenistan
Industrial action is extremely rare in Turkmenistan, because of the fear of retribution in this police state. But several localised strikes and protests in recent months suggest the government is prepared to make concessions on pay in order to keep the peace.
In the latest dispute, the human rights website Chronicles of Turkmenistan reported that workers building a major road bridge over the river Amu Darya in eastern Turkmenistan staged a strike in mid-August because they had not been paid for three months.
The report said managers tried a mixture of threats and persuasion to try to get the builders back to work. The strike continued, however, and by the end of a week they were paid their back wages in full.
Another protest over pay took place in April, when local employees of a Turkish construction company involved in building a five-star hotel at the Avaza resort, a flagship development on the Caspian coast.
"We filed complaints with the prosecutor's office about delayed wage payments over many months," one of the construction workers said. "And in May we received our wages in full."
Also this spring, protests over wage delays were staged by workers building a new unit at an oil refinery in the western city of Turkmenbashi, and by staff employed by a Russian construction firm. Rather than go on strike, these workers filed collective complaints.
"Within a week of the complaint being filed [in Turkmenbashi], they were paid their money," a commentator in the region said.
In another protest, employees of a company that provides services to the Dubai firm Dragon Oil submitted their resignations en masse, complaining that they were paid only half the wages received by foreign staff doing equivalent work. The dispute was resolved amicably, with some of their demands met.
Vyacheslav Mamedov, leader of the Civil Democratic Union of Turkmenistan based in The Netherlands, said it was remarkable that the government did not simply arrest and interrogate the protesting workers..
"In many cases, the authorities responded positively to protests and complaints and made an attempt to resolve the issue," he said.
Mamedov suggested the reason the authorities were prepared to defuse unrest by offering pay deals was that they were keen to avoid a repetition of events last year in western Kazakstan, where long-running oil strikes ended in a showdown in the town of Janaozen in December, in which police shot and killed 14 civilian protesters.