After the collapse of the Soviet Union, working conditions in Kazakhstan deteriorated much the same way as in other former Soviet republics. In the 1990s, more than 3,000 occupational accidents were registered officially each year, causing the death of more than 300 workers. But today, the ILO sees the country as a model for the region. Its approach to occupational safety and health (OSH) fully fits into the concept of the new ILO Convention and Recommendation to be discussed at the 2006 International Labour Conference in Geneva. Olga Bogdanova from the ILO Moscow office reports from Astana.
ASTANA, Kazakhstan (ILO Online) - When Kazakhstan became an independent state in 1991, an important part of the country's labour force moved from the state to the private sector, from industry to services and from rural to urban areas.
Working conditions deteriorated drastically and many of the thousands of victims of accidents and work-related diseases did not even receive compensation because of the bankruptcy of enterprises, or because these enterprises had already moved into the fast-growing informal economy where people work without proper labour contracts or social protection. This made it also difficult to assess the real number of occupational accidents and diseases.
Another serious problem was the growing gap between the reality at work and an outdated labour legislation, which did not reflect adequately the new relationship between workers, employers and the state and, therefore, did not contribute to the development of a sustainable economy and safe working conditions.
The Republic of Kazakhstan, however, took a comprehensive and sustainable approach to the problem by revising old and adopting new national legislation. From 1999 to 2004, a group of laws was adopted, including a civil code and employment and labour laws, as well as a law on OSH and social partnership.
The Law on Occupational Safety and Health merits special attention. It defines responsibilities of employers and workers in the sphere of OSH, establishes state control over compliance with the OSH legislation and determines procedures for OSH management. The preparation of a national OSH profile in 2004 allowed for the identification of the main gaps and problems in OSH. The profile contained an in-depth analysis of the situation, and outlined the main steps to be undertaken to improve the situation.
What's more, Kazakhstan has ratified the key ILO Conventions: Convention No. 81 on Labour Inspection in Industry and Commerce, Convention No.129 on Labour Inspection in Agriculture, Convention No. 148 on the Working Environment and Convention No. 155 on Occupational Safety and Health.
Finally, in 2005, the government approved a national programme of occupational safety and health for 2005 through 2007. The programme provides for the development of national OSH standards, introduction of a national OSH management system, legal support for the country's OSH policy, coordination of activities and functions of organizations dealing OSH and monitoring and training.
"The government of Kazakhstan fully understands the role of occupational safety and health in achieving a productive and sustainable economy", says Gulzhana Karagussova, Kazakhstan's Minister of Labour and Social Protection, adding that "enterprises with proper OSH management system perform better because safe work is good business. Similarly, OSH management systems need to be created [with] the ILO's long-standing experience and expertise [in mind]."
The ILO provided assistance in preparing the national OSH profile and in drafting Kazakhstan's new law on occupational safety and health. The country was also the first in the region to request the ILO to conduct an international audit of its labour inspection system; in October 2005, the results of the audit were presented to all countries of the region to be used as a model for the future.
"Kazakhstan can be seen as a model for the region in addressing OSH issues. From the very beginning, the country had a clear plan and a very systematic approach," said Ms. Karagussova. "What has been done in Kazakhstan fully fits into the concept of the new Convention and Recommendation we are now discussing at the International Labour Conference.
"Certainly", she continued, "the OSH situation in our country is far from being ideal and a lot still needs to be done. But we are sure to be on the right road. We welcome the proposed new ILO Convention and will make every effort to have it ratified."