Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Central Asia: Mar '09

Turkmen readers hear about legal improvements from IWPR before their own government tells them.
By Inga Sikorskaya
An IWPR report on new labour legislation in Turkmenistan generated a large response from readers abroad and, despite the closed nature of the country, from inside as well.


The article, entitled Turkmen Look Forward to Better Labour Laws, (RCA No. 568, 06-Mar-09), looked at the potential improvements offered by changes to current law which make it much more difficult for employers to hire staff on short-term contracts, leaving them constantly in fear of summary dismissal.



Employers have been known to force permanent staff onto permanent contracts, so as to be able to wield greater power over them and sack them if they are not compliant.



It was no easy task to gather even the basic facts about how the new law will work, and solicit comment about the implications.



Although IWPR’s site is blocked in Turkmenistan, the report was disseminated there via electronic media.



“We haven’t heard about it officially yet, but we trust IWPR,” said a local media expert. “The issue raised in the article is topical and relevant, as it concerns the interests of hundreds of thousands of people who work in this country. It showed how they currently lack rights, and demonstrated how employers benefit from this.”



Interviews with people across Turkmenistan revealed how much they were longing for an end to arbitrary employment practices.



“The report contains fresh information about reforms that are in the planning stage,” said one interviewee in the east of the country, who was learning about the draft law for the first time. “Nothing has been said about it here.



“It was also valuable as it presented the views of a range of people from a representative of parliament to a street sweeper.”



An engineer from the capital Ashgabat was surprised to see an article about local employment practices appearing in an article published outside Turkmenistan.



“It would be good if our rulers read articles like this,” he said. “Then they would realise what changes need to be made to people’s lives.”



Tajigul Begmedova, who heads the Turkmen Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, based in Bulgaria, warned that the new employment legislation would only work only if political conditions changed for the better.



“As long as citizens have restricted access to transparent and fair legal processes, and do not have strong trade unions to turn to, these amendments will not curb employers,” she said.