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Georgia: Workers’ rights deteriorate as government fails to honour agreements

Trade unionists have met to discuss the deteriorating situation of workers’ rights in Georgia. Workers are being pressed to work in unhealthy and dangerous environments, trade union activists are being dismissed, and trade union leaders are being harassed and threatened. The existence of the entire independent trade union organisations is facing serious threat.

On 6 June, EI joined the ITUC and NGO representatives for a country hearing on Georgia in Brussels. Fifty people representing trade union organisations and NGOs from across Europe came together to discuss the serious problems concerning human and trade union rights in Georgia.

ITUC General Secretary, Sharan Burrow, said:  “Ten years ago we witnessed in the post-Soviet union area the same brutal union busting as we now see in Georgia. We must continue supporting the Georgian Trade Union Confederation and not hesitate to use all the International and European instruments we possess to confront the anti-unionism policy of the Georgian government.”

The President of EI’s affiliate, the Teacher and Scientists Union (ESFTUG), Maia Kobakhidze, stressed the importance of international support: “We had a collective agreement between the teachers union and the Ministry of Teachers and Scientists but when we tried to amend it the ministry refused. We took the case to court, and it ruled that the ministry must negotiate with us. The court also ruled that the ministry should not interfere with the transfer of union member fees, but the ministry has never executed the decision of the court.

“Since then the ministry issued orders not to negotiate with the unions, and to break off any official contact with us. They also instructed schools to stop the membership fee transfers. We have 103,000 members, but no membership fees are reaching the union. We are completely dependent on membership fees for our survival.

“In November 2010 the ministry instructed school principals to normalise relations with the unions. As a result some 400 collective agreements were signed. This was all thanks to the pressure from the international community. We are also quite sure it happened because the U.S. ambassador met with the Georgian president, and the president wanted to show the world that he is being reasonable. Despite these 400 collective agreements, not a single penny has made it to the union.”

Despite numerous promises to the International Labour Organisation and contrary to the international commitments taken by the country, the Georgian government has not taken any steps or measures towards making trade union and labour rights respected in the country.

While on one hand Georgia is presenting its successes in terms of economic growth, on the other hand it keeps silent on the growing number of human rights violations and the total disregard and ignorance of health and safety issues, which has led to costs in workers’ lives on an increasing scale.

Employers also did not refrain from targeting workers who sought to establish a union, using the provision of a medieval labour code the Georgian government is so proud of. Georgia is one of the very few countries in the world that does not have a labour inspection.

“How can a government ignore core labour rights – on freedom of association and collective bargaining, on health and safety at work – and count on success of processes of association with the European Union?” asked Irakli Petriashvili, President of the Georgian Trade Union Confederation.

“European decision makers should not have any illusions that behind the democratic façade there is a government that is devoted to busting the democratic values and interests of workers. We cannot accept the increasing insecurity and lack of rights and the fact that workers are risking and losing their lives at work and that their organisations are being attacked by the authorities,” added Petriashvili.

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