A top oil producer in Kazakhstan announced Wednesday that it has resumed laying off striking workers at one of its production plants in an attempt to stem the severe drop in output caused by the industrial action.
London-listed Kazmunaigas Exploration Production said it has terminated the contracts of 30 employees at its Uzenmunaigas facility in the western Mangistau region, adding to the 373 workers dismissed previously.
Kazakhstan is a major global oil producer and has set itself the goal of becoming one of the world's top 10 crude exporters by 2015.
Workers at Uzenmunaigas have been on strike since May over demands for better salaries and working conditions.
KMG EP, which is controlled by state-owned Kazmunaigas and is among the main three oil and gas producers in the Central Asian nation, says the industrial action has to date caused a drop in oil production of 366,000 tons.
"Given that it will take time to restore production to planned levels, the expected deviation from the plan for the year could be approximately 800,000 tons, or 6 percent of the consolidated volume of KMG EP's production," the company said in a statement.
Several hundred workers appear determined to keep their strike going, despite the company's actions.
The company said 748 employees failed to turn up to work on Wednesday.
"Despite all attempts to reason with the strikers and a moratorium on layoffs, the illegal protest action continues, and the remaining protesters show no desire to establish constructive dialogue," KMG EP said.
Galym Ageulov, an activist with the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, said the layoffs could lead to deepening tensions, especially if authorities take heavy-handed action to disperse protesting workers.
The dismissals "could lead to conflict, a social explosion and politicization of the issue," he said. "The workers have always insisted that this was a labor dispute and nothing more, but now they may start making political demands, and the situation will escalate."
President Nursultan Nazarbayev's government places a high premium on maintaining public order and is usually quick to stamp out signs of political dissent.
The Uzenmunaigas workers' complaints gained international attention earlier this month when British pop singer Sting canceled a planned concert in the capital, Astana, citing the "unacceptable treatment being meted to these Kazakh oil and gas workers."