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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Georgia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Georgia, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca90a.html [accessed 19 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 5,000,000
Capital: Tbilisi
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The new ultra-liberal Labour Code gives green light to union busting. Important restrictions on trade union rights remain in place. Dismissals, intimidation and other forms of harassment take place every day.

Trade union rights in law

Recognition of rights: The Constitution and the 1997 Law on Trade Unions recognise basic trade union rights. Public servants, except for certain categories employed in law enforcement agencies and prosecutors' offices, have the right to form and join trade unions.

Limitations: At least 100 people are needed for a trade union to be established – a requirement considered unreasonable by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations. An enterprise-level section of an existing trade union can be formed if at least 15 workers wish to do so. The Organic Law on the Suspension and Prohibition of Activities of Voluntary Associations allows suspending a trade union by a court decision for reasons such as causing a social conflict.

Controversial Labour Code – no dismissal protection: A Labour Code of 2006, adopted despite protests from both trade unions and employers' organisations, significantly reduces workers' and trade union rights.

According to Article 38 (3) of this Code, an employer can dismiss a worker without any reason whatsoever, provided that compensation equivalent to the worker's one-month salary would be paid. While the code does contain a very general anti-discrimination clause, there are no specific provisions to prevent dismissal related to trade union membership or activities. Article 38(3) has already been used to suppress trade unions (see below, "rights in practice" section). Even though protective measures for trade union representatives under the Trade Union Law are theoretically still valid, the courts simply ignore those provisions in favour of the Labour Code, reports The Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC). According to GTUC, such law gives a green light not only to union busting but also opens the door for discrimination at work in all its forms and victimisation of workers who simply stand for their rights.

The Labour Code won the praise of the World Bank (report "Doing Business 2008", published in September 2007) for its ultra-liberal approach to hiring and firing. In the meantime the same law was severely criticised by the ILO Committee of Experts for exactly the same reason. The new Labour Code falls short of the ILO standards in many ways and could potentially lead to losing the European Union trade preferences under the GSP+ scheme, which are conditional on workers' rights being protected in law and in practice. In autumn the government made the first step in the right direction, holding consultations with the ILO and agreeing to an independent and impartial assessment of the labour legislation.

Collective bargaining: The above-mentioned Labour Code defines collective agreement as an agreement between an employer and two or more employees or a trade union. Employers are not obliged to engage in collective bargaining, even if a trade union or a group of employees wishes to do so. Contrary to the international labour standards, an employer can bypass a functioning trade union organisation and conclude a collective agreement with nonunionised workers instead. The code also gives employers the right to unilaterally establish the rules concerning a number of working conditions – for instance, working time – which have traditionally been subject to collective bargaining.

Right to strike: Definition of a labour dispute under Article 49(1) of the Labour Code can be interpreted as allowing strikes only in case of conflicts of rights, not conflicts of interests. A strike, regardless of the nature of work or sector of activity, cannot exceed 90 days in a row and is only legal if a warning strike of no longer than three days has taken place one to fourteen days before the main strike. Workers who were notified of the termination of their employment before the dispute has started cannot go on strike. Violations of these restrictive rules can in some cases cost the organisers up to two years in prison. The right to solidarity strike is not guaranteed.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: The crisis of democracy led to mass protests in November 2007, with a state of emergency being imposed, demonstrations brutally repressed by authorities and hundreds of people injured. Political aspects aside, many of the demonstrators were disappointed by the authorities' inability to deal with social problems: at least one third of the population lives below the poverty line, registered unemployment is at least 16% with real unemployment being significantly higher, and the average pension is just 16 EUR per months.

New law hits trade unions hard: The GTUC estimates that they had lost around 20 000 members owing to the harassment and dismissals facilitated by the new Labour Code. Some employers make it clear to trade unionists that, with the new law in place, the boss can do whatever he or she likes. For example, a trade union in a metal factory in the town of Zestafoni has been functioning for several years despite complicated relations with the employer. Right after the Code had come into force, the employer threatened trade unionists that it would be very easy to dismiss them, and in just seven months time the 5,000-strong GTUC-affiliated trade union had dissolved.

Union Busting in the Port of Poti: The town of Poti on the Black Sea became internationally known for the flagrant anti-unionism in its port. The GTUC believes that the "union hounding" was connected to the plan to turn Poti into a free trade zone as of March 2008. Now privatised, Poti port was owned by the State when the management was getting rid of the trade union organisation.

Workers began losing jobs with no explanation given right after the new Labour Code came into force in July 2006. Although at that time trade unionists were not specifically targeted, dismissals created a climate of fear.

On 1 January the management unilaterally terminated the collective agreement, stopped communicating with the union and used security guards to threaten workers with dismissal if they continued to support the union. An organisation once counting 1,200 members out of 1,300 workers was shrinking fast.

In October, with the privatisation process moving ahead, trade union leaders called a meeting during lunch break to discuss trade union demands. The meeting, attended by 60 workers, was secretly filmed by persons close to the management. While the employer did not dismiss all 60 workers, the video recording allowed identifying and then targeting the activists.

On 19 October, on demand from the port's general director Lasha Akhaladze, the trade union office was sealed. When trade unionists tried to enter their office, the company security guards stopped them. On 23 October five trade union officers, including trade union chairman Eduard Korkia, and four other active union members, were fired. Moreover, the management tricked the workers to sign a letter that was supposed to be a petition for workers' reinstatement but was in reality an attack on the trade union. Eleven workers who refused to sign it were dismissed on 1 December without any explanation. The employer simply referred to article 38 (3) of the Labour Code, which allows discretionary dismissals. Trade unionists' persistence, to the point of hunger strike, led the management to promise that most of the workers would get their jobs back; however, only two of the dismissed workers were reinstated at the time of writing.

The Dockers and Seafarers' Union of Georgia challenged the dismissals in the Poti city court, quoting the ILO conventions in the hope that the court would rectify blatant anti-union discrimination. No decision was available in 2007; at the time of writing it was known that trade unions had lost the case in the city court and on appeal, but the decision could still be reversed by the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Union harassment in Heidelberg subsidiary: When GTUC approached workers at the cement works in the Rustavcement (a cement works in the town of Rustavi owned by the German Heidelberg group), about one third of employees were interested in joining the union. The director, however, chose to openly oppose this idea. Trade union members were intimidated and harassed by the management; supervisors photographed workers during their lunch breaks if the unionists used mobile phones or were taking naps. One of the targeted activists, Malkhaz Akhalaia, resigned due to bullying. Since the trade union contacted the Heidelberg workers' union in Germany, open harassment has stopped, but supervisors are still instructed to discourage workers from joining a trade union.

Problems in the education sector: Since the adoption of the Labour Code, the Ministry of Education and Science has been reluctant to engage in collective bargaining with the representative Educators' and Scientists' Free Trade Union of Georgia (ESFTUG). ESFTUG managed to obtain a court decision instructing the Ministry to start negotiations, but no positive developments could be noticed at the time of writing. The government has also interfered in selection of headmasters by blocking the candidacy of ESFTUG members and has made some discrediting statements in the media.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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