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2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Georgia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 6 June 2012
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2012 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights - Georgia, 6 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fd8894ec.html [accessed 29 December 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: 4,300,000
Capital: Tbilisi

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
100 (Equal Remuneration for Work of Equal Value (1951))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Threats: 1
Arrests: 40
Dismissals: 6

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher

Introduction

The trade unions of Georgia face direct attacks from the authorities of the state. An unchecked ability of employers to terminate employment contracts has made the work of unions very difficult. Courts do not apply laws that prohibit anti-union discrimination. The Labour Code is not conducive to trade union activities and undermines collective bargaining. Georgia has become one of the worst cases in Europe as far as the rights of workers are concerned.

Background

The government of Mikheil Saakashvili, the president of Georgia since 2003, has implemented in the country the most radical variant of neoliberal economic policy, with the total privatization of state assets, abolishment of the majority of social guarantees, and extreme deregulation, including the deregulation of labour market. Economic growth in 2010 was 7%, but it doesn't influence subsequently the well being of the majority of population. Manufacturing and agriculture remain weak. The government officially acknowledged 15% unemployment by the end of 2011; but the alternative sources gave other estimations, of up to 41% unemployed. The economy is supported by substantial external borrowing; with external debt equal to 35% of GDP, and public debt 43% of GDP in 2011. The political situation in the country is characterized by the domination of the president and his party, United National Movement, which has constitutional majority in the parliament since the elections of 2008, while the opposition is fractured and feeble. The protest actions of opposition in the capital of the country, Tbilisi, were dispelled by police in May 2011.

Trade union rights in law

While the Constitution and the 1997 Law on Trade Unions recognise basic trade union rights, union activities are hampered by vast employers' freedoms. The minimum membership required to create a new union is set at an inordinate 100, and where a union is already operating, it can be suspended by a court decision for reasons such as causing a social conflict. The 2006 Labour Code vests employers with the right to dismiss a worker without any reason, provided that compensation equivalent to one month's salary is paid. The Labour Code also gives the employers the right to bypass a functioning trade union and bargain directly with non-unionised workers, to refuse altogether to engage in collective bargaining, and even to decide unilaterally on certain issues that should normally be subject to bargaining. The right to strike is also limited, as all strikes must be preceded by a warning strike while the right to solidarity strikes is not guaranteed. Furthermore, no strike may exceed 90 days, and violating the rules on strikes can cost the organisers up to two years in prison.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

No protection against anti-union discrimination: Although anti-union discrimination is prohibited in Georgian legislation, courts do not apply these provisions. Under the Labour Code the employer has the right to terminate an employment contract for any or no reason and without giving advance notice. The Law on Trade Unions has not been abrogated and is formally in force, but Article 23 of the Law, which states that employers can dismiss employees elected as chairpersons of trade union organisations only with the consent of the union, is ignored in practice. The GTUC estimates that union membership decreased by more than 100,000 people since the adoption of the Labour Code because of lack of protection against anti-union discrimination.

Short-term employment contracts widely used: The use of short-term employment contracts is widespread in practice. The Labour Code does not contain any criteria or restrictions to determine under which circumstances a fixed-term contract is permissible.

Labour Code not amended despite ILO recommendations:

The Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) has on several occasions complained to the ILO about violations of freedom of association stemming from the adoption of the 2006 Labour Code. The ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations was very critical of the Georgian Labour Code in its 2007 annual report, as was the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association in March and June 2010. They urged the Government to amend the Labour Code so as to ensure effective protection against anti-union discrimination, in particular, sections 37 (d) and 38 (3), which allow the employer to terminate a contract with an employee without any reason, provided one month severance is paid.

The GTUC worked out a draft with amendments to the Labour Code, collected signatures of more than 100,000 citizens in support of it and presented it to the Parliament of Georgia in 2009. This initiative was ignored.

The year 2011 has brought a new tension between the government and GTUC, while GTUC had to ask the international trade union movement to hold solidarity campaigns on several occasions.

In June 2011, the ITUC and the ETUC have requested an investigation regarding compliance with its EU General System of Preferences (GSP+) which allows Georgia to benefit from trade preferences. The request pointed out the restrictions imposed by the Georgian government on the country's workforce on freedom of association and collective bargaining. It also details the absence of protection for workers from being sacked for union membership or from other forms of discrimination.However, the EU Commission refused to accept the case for review despite the higher standard.

However, in October 2011, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) accepted for review a petition under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) filed by the American Federation of Labour and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) alleging that the government of Georgia had failed to "take steps to afford internationally recognized workers' rights" in both law and practice. As a consequence, a formal investigation and a public hearing into the matters raised in the complaint will be launched.

Violations

Hercules Steel – trade union activists fired, strikers repressed by police:

The workers of the Hercules Steel plant at Kutaisi, had established their union on August 4, the company immediately fired six of its elected representatives, provoking a warning strike by the workers on 2 September. The company then fired more of the workers, after which the workforce launched a full-scale strike with several members also going on hunger strike. On the 15th of September the workers were forced to end their strike and return to work in a sudden raid by an overwhelming force of police yesterday. Fifty police vehicles, led by the local Governor, descended on the strikers and detained more than 40 of them for several hours. Managers then went to workers' homes to threaten them, and police made several more workers sign statements that they would go back to work.

A strong international solidarity campaign was held to protect the rights of the trade union members, as well as the rights of the victims of trafficking – 130 workers from India, who were found working also at Hercules Steel at Kutaisi. As a result, the arrested members and leaders of the union were released, restored at workplaces, and the management of the company agreed to acknowledge the union as representing both Georgian and Indian workers of the plant. The executive director of Hercules Steel at Kutaisi, Raji Kumar Sureika, was fired. However, in practice the collective bargaining process has not progressed and union is still facing difficulties, and workers are advised not to have contacts with the union.

The LTD "Georgian railway" interferes into trade union elections:

The LTD "Georgian Railway", in violation of the existing collective agreement, unilaterally issued an order number 5881/2, according to which, the transfer of membership dues was terminated in July 2010. The administration of the company intended to bankrupt the trade union and limited a free exercise of workers collective rights. The court ruled against the union complaint and based its decision on the provisions of law on "collective bargaining'' that was abolished back in 2006. Recommendations of the Tripartite Social Partnership Commission to parties to engage in the collective bargaining process to resolve the conflict were ignored by the railway administration.

The company began downsizing the workforce. Lay offs have begun, generating a climate of fear. On 25 March 2011 activists of the union were called to Tbilisi in the head office of the Georgian Railway. The administration of the railway informed that it does not approve any trade union activity. Besides, they were also told that they could stay and carry out union activities, but could face dismissals.

On 8 April in Khasuri, Ms. Gocha Chubinidze, the head of the Carriage Depot of the Georgian State Railways advised delegates not to attend the Railway Workers Trade Union Congress and threatened them with dismissals. Also In Khashuri, the Head of the Rail Track Department, Mr. Zaza Chkoidze, threatened 8 delegates with dismissal, if they attended the congress. The Head of the Railway Station, Mr. Vasil Kurtanidze, threatened one of 2 delegates with dismissal, if he attended the congress. On 10 April, in the morning when delegates from Khashuri were in the station aiming at arriving to Congress, some uncertain people came and tried to convince delegates not to go to Tbilisi. As a result, some delegates went back and didn't come to congress. In result only 9 delegates out of 24 elected attended the Congress. From Samtredia, another region, only 15 out of 38 elected delegates attended the Congress. In Tbilisi a few days before the congress the delegates were threatened by the representatives of the ltd ,,Georgian Railway's administration in Rail-track Department and also in Carriage-Exploitation Department.

As a result of the mentioned interference, the congress attended 69 delegates instead of 130; therefore it was an obvious danger of deranging the congress. Despite that interference, the congress was held, the constitution was amended and governing bodies were elected.

On 22 June, Merab Targamadze, a member of board of the Georgian Railway Workers Union, was fired by the administration without prior notice accordingly by the article 37 section D of labour code. Taking into consideration above mentioned facts and active trade union work carried by Targamadze it becomes obvious that he was dismissed on account of his trade union activity. This particular case also serves as a clear demonstration of the railway administration to use all illegal means in order to disturb the unions and subject the members to the discrimination.

Teachers' union harassed:

Since 2008 the Educators' and Scientists' Free Trade Union of Georgia (ESFTUG) has suffered from the Ministry of Education and Science favouring the Professional Education Syndicate (PES) (see the 2009 and 2010 Annual Survey). The Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) filed a complaint with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) in 2008 (Case No. 2678.). GTUC also raised the issue before the National Social Dialogue Commission, and in March 2010, the Georgian Government confirmed its willingness to address the issue. A special commission, with GTUC representative, was established to settle the conflict. Social dialogue with the Ministry of Science has intensified for a while since then, and collective agreements have even been signed in two regions.

However, since June 2010 collective agreements on systems were signed with the PES, by instructions from the Minister of Education. ESFTUG members were forced to quit the union and join PES or risk being fired. In Zugdidi (Samegrelo region) almost 1,000 teachers resigned from the ESFTUG during one day alone, and in Kutaisi around 550 teachers left the ESFTUG. The Ministry of Education and Science also tried to promote their candidate to be elected as president of the ESFTUG during the union's Executive Council in October 2010. (See 2011 Annual Survey). Nevertheless, a trade union delegate was elected as president.

A pressure on the ESFTUG continued in 2011. The officials in the Ministry tried to urge the newly elected president of the union, Maia Kobakhidze, to resign. After she has refused the proposal, she was intimidated by the anonymous people by phone, who threatened to kill her. The Ministry continues to ignore the leader of the union, and to avoid dialogue with ESFTUG. Furthermore, the Ministry of education, without any consultations, issued an order prohibiting check-off system.

Attack on a union at the Agrarian State University: Lasha Gotsiridze, a week after he has been appointed as Head of the University, in violation of the collective agreement, issued a verbal order that terminated the transfer of the union membership dues on the union account, by which the functioning of the primary union unit has been put under the threat. Recommendations of the Tripartite Social Partnership Commission to parties to engage in the collective bargaining process to resolve the conflict were ignored by university administration.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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