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Cultural attitudes to whistleblowing: Kazakhstan

Written by
AEQUITAS Law Firm, the top labour and employment practice in Kazakhstan.
The upcoming implementation of the EU Whistleblowing Directive is a good occasion to take a closer look at the cultural implications of whistleblowing in Kazakhstan.

In Kazakhstan, workers are fully provided with mechanisms to protect their rights, but whistleblowing is not popular. Two reasons for this are explored below.

Сultural reasons

Historically, the mentality of the citizens of Kazakhstan has developed in such a way that whistleblowing is equated with a manifestation of weakness and, to some extent, betrayal or denunciation. Therefore, there are often cases when employees do not take any action to protect their rights. At the heart of this behaviour lies the submissiveness instilled by Soviet totalitarianism, which does not allow citizens to protest openly against employers’ illegal actions. It should be noted that there is still a high proportion of workers of the Soviet generation in the labour market, who, in turn, instil a similar mindset in younger workers.

Legal reasons

The EU Whistleblower Directive does not apply to Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan law is structured in such a way that in order to protect their rights, employees must apply to the competent authorities, disclosing their name (anonymous complaints are not considered). At the same time, there is no protection mechanism for employees following a report.

This is certainly used by some employers who sometimes openly harass employees using various bullying mechanisms, as a result of which the employee either quits himself or commits violations for which s/he gets fired. In many cases, the employer’s actions are legal or cannot be proved. The situation is especially critical in rural areas, where, as a rule, there is little work, and having reported a violation, the risk of subsequently being left without work is very high. The situation is aggravated by the fact that workers are aware they lack rights, which further reduces their motivation to report violations.

There are, however, positive developments. Increasingly, employers are trying to resolve problem with employee on their own. For this, internal procedures are being developed that regulate the procedure for considering employee complaints and protecting their rights and interests. In addition, a generational shift is bringing progressive younger people, unfamiliar with the Soviet model of uncomplaining submission, into the labour market. They are ready to fight for their rights.

Anton Alexeyev
Associate - Kazakhstan