Uzbek Migrants “Exploited” in Kazakstan

Uzbek Migrants “Exploited” in Kazakstan

Seasonal workers from Uzbekistan say some employers in Kazakstan are exploiting their vulnerable status to overwork them and cheat them of wages.

Earlier this month, a group of Uzbek migrants told NBCentralAsia they had worked for a farmer in the Almaty region of Kazakstan for six months, and received no pay at the end of that period.

Facing unemployment at home, the 14 had contracted with the Kazak farmer to work on his land tending tomatoes, cucumbers and melons.

"We’d get up at four in the morning and go out to the fields," 50-year-old Gulsara told NBCentralAsia. "We would work there until late at night. Our employer had no machinery so we had to do everything by hand."

After six months, their employer was unable to pay the wages he owed them. He said he had been bankrupted because some of the land he was leasing had been taken over illegally by others.

Ten of the migrants have now returned to Uzbekistan empty-handed, while the other four have stayed on in hope of getting their money. They did not seek help from the courts or from local human rights organisations.

Every year, large numbers of Uzbeks come to Kazakstan looking for seasonal work. Local employers are happy to take on this cheap labour, but often fail to register them with the authorities and avoid giving them written contracts.

"Verbal contracts concluded with employers in Kazakstan mean that illegal migrants end up being exploited as forced labour," Ellina Yenikeeva, a lawyer with Sana Sezim, an NGO in Almaty that provideds legal assistance to migrants, says. "In most cases, employers in Kazakstan take away illegal migrants’ passports, meaning they can’t go anywhere."

Human rights activists say there have been cases of employers “selling” foreign migrant workers to each other.

Experts say the lack of legal awareness among illegal migrants is compounded by the indifference of officials in Tashkent and Almaty. The two countries have yet to sign bilateral agreements governing the treatment of migrant workers.

An estimated five million Uzbekistan nationals are working outside the country. The country has not signed international accords on labour migration. 

In Kazakstan meanwhile, loopholes in the current legislation benefit unscrupulous employers.

"The law [on migration] does not contain a definition of labour migrants or their status. The law says a labour migrant is ‘a foreign citizen temporarily resident’, but with no particular rights," Victoria Tyuleneva of the Kazakstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law explained.

Tyuleneva says labour migrants should check whether employers have a special permit to hire foreign workers. Not having one makes the employer a potential offender.

"If employers in Kazakstan offer work without having this permit, you must not go with them because it’s 100 per cent certain you’ll be cheated, or else – as with these 14 Uzbek migrants – you’ll find it virtually impossible to defend your rights."

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Uzbekistan, Kazakstan
Human rights
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