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

Turkmen Workers Suffer in Silence

Workplace corruption and exploitation is rife because employees are terrified of speaking out.
By Seid Seidov

Turkmenistan's workers are so terrified of losing their jobs that they are putting up with all sorts of abuses from their employers.


In a chain of extortion, bosses steal from middle managers who in turn fleece workers - the latter two rarely complain out of a fear of being made redundant.


Unemployment is rampant. In the town, once powerful enterprises and factories lie idle and in the countryside collective farms barely survive. Private companies, meanwhile, has not been able to provide work for all those who lost their jobs in the state sector.


In education, healthcare and law enforcement, managers require staff to pay them a specified amount almost every month. The money is collected under various pretexts such as renovation and equipment purchase.


Maternity nurse Jemal complained that her employers take money from her colleagues every spring to compensate for missed targets in that season's cotton harvest. "What does that have to do with us medics?" she asked,


In the police service, there is practically no limit to how much superiors can extort from subordinates. A high-ranking officer justified such corruption by arguing that he felt entitled to a share of the money and goods his subordinates take from criminals.


Another police officer admitted that while he and his partners regularly take money from suspects and detainees, their superiors demand even more from them.


They cited several occasions when their chief's wife visited the station, and a number of officers were ordered to take her shopping for jewellery on the understanding that they would not only escort her to the shop, but also pay for all her purchases.


The military is also rife with corruption at all levels. When the monthly defence ministry inspection is carried out, commanders order their staff to "treat the inspectors well". This means that officers and soldiers are expected to wine and dine the ministry staff and buy them presents - all out of their own meagre salaries - or risk punishment.


With workers so fearful of speaking out, bosses feel free to indulge in many other forms of exploitation.


Mukhan works for a maintenance agency, where he earns 560,000 manat - 26 US dollars - a month to support his wife and five children. "For the past six months, we have been working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week," he told IWPR.


"None of my co-workers will ever demand a shorter working day or time off because they will be fired if they do and there are lots of unemployed people out there who would take their places in a second."


Managers have no regard for contracts or labour law, and it is quite common for workers to also do menial jobs for them or their relatives.


"In the run-up to the Independence Day celebrations on October 27 and 28, we have been working two shifts a day, cleaning streets and yards," said Murkhan's colleague Atakhan-aka. "Before that, I worked in my boss's garden for two weeks cutting vines, weeding and cleaning - also without any time off."


In Turkmenistan, employees have no rights and meagre incomes, but the thought of losing their salaries - however small - will always prevent them from challenging their corrupt bosses.


Seid Seidov is the pseudonym for a journalist in Turkmenistan