2013 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights : Countries at Risk - Georgia
|Publisher||International Trade Union Confederation|
|Publication Date||6 June 2013|
|Cite as||International Trade Union Confederation, 2013 Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights : Countries at Risk - Georgia, 6 June 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/51b8518418.html [accessed 21 January 2018]|
For many years, the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) has faced sustained and serious acts of repression by the Government of President Saakashvili. In 2006, the Georgian government gutted the Labour Code, in direct contravention of ILO Convention No. 87 on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise and ILO Convention No. 98 on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining – both of which Georgia has ratified. Indeed, that Labour Code established almost complete freedom to fire a worker for no reason whatsoever, denied workers effective protection against discrimination, including on the basis of trade union membership, undermined collective bargaining and eliminated labour inspection, among others. In several cases, trade union activists have been dismissed, and the courts, despite protections in the trade union act against anti-union discrimination, have upheld the sackings on the basis of the 2006 Labour Code. Together, these changes have led to a severe imbalance of power in the employment relationship, to the extreme detriment of workers.
The government also divested the Ministry of Labour of its ability to conduct inspections. It does not have a single person who is responsible for handling anything related to industrial relations (labour disputes, reconciliation, collective bargaining, relations with trade unions, etc.). Nor does it have anyone responsible for occupational safety and health. Consequently, since 2006 the government no longer inspects workplaces to ensure compliance with the labour code and other laws within its jurisdiction. In general, labour violations are addressed by the parties seeking recourse to the courts. To the extent that inspections are undertaken, they are done by the police who have little if any training in labour law or industrial relations. In its 2010 report, the CEACR notes that "with the abolition of the labour inspectorate by the Labour Code of 2006, there is no public authority to observe the implementation of labour legislation, including child labour provisions" and "requests the Government to envisage the possibility of re-establishing the labour inspection services, including in the informal sector, in order to ensure the effective implementation of the provisions giving effect to the Convention No. 138."
The 2012 parliamentary election saw the opposition Georgian Dream party, a coalition that is led by billionaire businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, win 85 of the 150 seats, issuing a stinging rebuke to President Saakashvili's United National Movement Party. The election signalled a change in the government's attitude towards trade unions. Long stalled talks on reforms to the labour law have moved forward and draft amendments developed with input from the ILO are now moving through parliament. The constant pressure from trade unions and foreign governments to respect workers' rights undoubtedly created the political climate for these reforms to be introduced.
At the end of 2012, with an improved political climate, workers went back on the offense undertaking strikes against abusive employers. For example, the Poti Port management had destroyed the trade union in 2007 through the mass dismissal of workers based on their trade union affiliation and sealing off the trade union office. The case had been discussed by the ILO CFA which issued critical recommendations urging the government to correct the existing situation. However, the government did nothing to fulfil these obligations. On October 9-10, 2012, dockers went on strike in a dispute over the use of contracted labour, paid 600 GEL (US$362) per month, significantly less than workers in permanent employment who earned 1,000 GEL (US$603); both sets of workers have to purchase their own equipment. Following intervention from the trade unions, the employer agreed to enter into negotiations on the second day of the strike. The workers agreed to return to work on 11 October after management said it would consider their grievances, including issues such as pay and working conditions. A trade union structure was then re-established in the Poti Port Enterprise. Having formed the union, the elected committee prepared a list of employee demands and sent an official letter to the management asking to engage in collective negotiations.
On October 15, 2012 workers went on strike in the Chiatura mining enrichment plant. The miners said that management had been keeping two sets of books, misreporting workers' wages. Work safety conditions at the mine are very poor and have caused the death or disability of many workers during the last three years. Management at the company have not paid any compensation to any of the families of the deceased, except for funeral expenses, because during the investigation of the facts and causes, the victims were blamed for the accidents. Miners' daily rations include two pieces of bread and two boiled eggs or a cup of yogurt. Workers claim that the food is often spoiled. The miners are subjected to abuse and work under pressure. Mr. Nugzar Joxadze, the director of Itxvisi Mine Factory beat one miner and verbally abused another. A "yellow" union was founded by Mr. Akaki Gurjidze, the General Manager. This union has supported management activities and has lived off of union membership dues deducted from the miners' salaries, about 15,000.00 GEL a month in total. Since 2010, the GTUC has been trying to create a real trade union in Chiatura and supported the 2012 strikes.
RECENT VIOLATIONS IN PRACTICE:
Union Busting by Government in Metals Sector: Perhaps the most striking recent example of anti-union practices in Georgia is the Hercules Steel case. In September 2011, the governor and dozens of police broke a strike of roughly 150 workers at the Hercules Steel plant in Kutaisi. The workers were forced to return to work or face jail and/or dismissal, and several were forced to sign a document renouncing the union. Those workers went on strike to demand the reinstatement of dismissed trade union leaders and to demand collective bargaining in good faith. Several Indian workers were also employed in squalid conditions, at low pay and had their passports withheld. Some who had requested permission to return home had been denied.
Starving Unions by Cutting off Dues Teachers: After the election of union president Ms Kobakhidze in 2010, the government suspended any cooperation with the union. The government informed schools not to sign the model agreements that the government itself helped to prepare and to prohibit the deduction of dues or even the transfer of funds from personal accounts to the union. In Martvili county, schools had transferred membership dues to the trade union's account. As a result of pressure from the Martvili Resource Centre (a county office of the Ministry of Education and Science (MoES)) on the school principals, the local union was forced by the school principals to return the transferred dues from the bank to the school's accounts.
As a result of international pressure, in late 2011 and early 2012, the MoES held several meetings with the Teachers' Union. During these events, the issue of dues deduction was discussed. However, to delay and block the negotiations, the Minister imposed illegitimate conditions such as the unionisation of one third of teachers in a school. As a consequence, collection of membership dues continues to be done through individual bank transfers which remains difficult. Furthermore, cases of interference in trade union internal affairs such as the obstruction of trade union meetings or in the collection of dues despite agreements are on the rise all over the country. Unionised teachers have been put under pressure to revoke their membership in the ESFTUG under MoES' instructions.
There have also been reports of school principals being put under pressure to stop cooperating with trade unions. As a consequence, teachers do not dare to meet or to join the independent trade unions (including outside the workplace). At the same time, a yellow union, the Educational Professional Syndicate (PES) is given full access to the schools and can freely organise meetings and collect dues. In July 2012, the President of the PES was appointed to a position at the MoES. All this happened despite a letter sent to the MoES by the ESFTUG President in January 2012 informing her about the MoES' readiness to cooperate with the union.
Georgian Railway: On July 29, 2010, the union received a letter from the railway which gave them a five day period to accept a number of items, including the union assuming the costs of medical and other benefits – to the tune of 3.5 million Lari (
EUR 1.7 ml). The company said that if the proposal was not accepted within 5 days, there would be no further talks. The union began examining the proposal, but the very next day on 30 July 2010, before the union could send its official reply, the company issued a decree by which it unilaterally terminated clause number 3.2 of the agreement, which governed the check-off system. As a result, the deduction and transfer of membership dues to the union's account was stopped. The union went to court to annul the order on August 12. The court ruled against the union.
The union is now going member by member to get agreements to have their dues transferred from their accounts to the union's account. This is a very slow process, and has seriously affected the union's finances. The banks also charge a transfer fee which amounts to 25 per cent of the dues transferred. Many members are also afraid to sign for fear of reprisals as the laws provide no real protection against government/company threats and intimidation.
Government Harassment and Interference in Trade Union Affairs
Education: The harassment and intimidation of the ESFTUG leader Manana Ghurchumalidze led to her resigning and applying for asylum in Canada. ESFTUG members were forced to quit the union and join the yellow union or risk being fired. In Zugdidi (Samegrelo region) almost 1,000 teachers resigned from the ESFTUG in one day alone, and in Kutaisi around 550 teachers left the ESFTUG. The officials in the Ministry tried to urge the newly elected president of the union, Maia Kobakhidze to resign. After she refused, she received anonymous phone calls issuing death threats.
Railway: On 8 April 2011, 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 dismissal. 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 the 2 delegates with dismissal if he attended the Congress. On the morning of 10 April, when delegates from Khashuri were in the station to attend the Congress, unknown persons came and tried to convince delegates not to go. As a result, some delegates did not go to the congress. Indeed, only 9 delegates out of 24 attended the Congress from that region. Only 15 out of 38 elected delegates from the Samtredia region attended the Congress. In Tbilisi a few days before the Congress the delegates in the Rail-track Department and also in the Carriage-Exploitation Department were threatened by representatives of the Georgian Railway's administration. On June 22, 2011, Merab Targamadze, a board member of the Georgian Railway Workers Union, was fired by the administration without prior notice. In December 2011, under the pretext of a reorganisation, Vitali Giorgadze, one of the most active members of the board of the Railway trade union, was dismissed. Other members of the board were also subjected to continuous pressure and the majority have ceased their activity.
Medical: The hospital sector is now controlled by two companies – JSC Aldagi BCI and JSC GPI Holding. These new owners of privatised hospitals and polyclinics have refused to negotiate with unions and actively intimidate any staff cooperating with trade unions. Many medical workers have withdrawn from trade unions because of a fear of dismissal. 116 trade union organisations (45 per cent) have ceased to exist and membership has fallen by 7,968 (41 per cent). Furthermore, 32 collective bargaining agreements were terminated and not a single new collective bargaining agreement has been concluded. JSC Aldagi BCI has simply refused to recognise the unions. JSC GPI Holding recognises the union but does not negotiate in good faith. Consequently, industrial relations have ceased to function in the hospital sector.
Public Servants: In August 2011, as a result of interference by central and local governments, 14 city and district level organisations of the Public Servants Trade Union ceased to exist – amounting to a loss of 2,350 members. Territorial agreements in 4 district municipalities were terminated and 4 expired. Only one territorial agreement is now in effect. Earlier in 2011, union members who had recently organised unions at municipal level were forced to sign forms resigning from the union, under threat of dismissal, resulting in the loss of hundreds of members. In private conversations with the union leaders, local authorities admitted that there had been a verbal order from high level government officials to eradicate the local unions.
Telecommunications: JSC Silknet is a telecommunications firm in Georgia. In the past year, the company has dismissed the Chairs of 19 trade union committees in Tbilisi and in the regions. A letter was submitted to the Chair of the Tripartite Social Partnership Committee on July 20, 2012 regarding the dismissals but the case has yet to be reviewed. The Government has used the collective bargaining agreement concluded with this company as an example of successful social dialogue and partnership. However, after the departure of the manager in charge of the negotiations, the situation quickly deteriorated. The company refuses to engage in any dialogue with the union. In 2012, the number of trade union members in the Communication Sector Workers Union fell by 37.7 per cent.
Precarious Work: In the private sector, 80-90 per cent of contracts are short-term contracts of between 2 and 3 months. However, it is not unusual for workers to work for several consecutive years under such contracts. Employment under short-term contracts has an impact on leave, pension and other benefits. These contracts are also used to discipline workers. Short-term contracts are also found in the public sector, especially for those performing technical work.
The impact on the GTUC over the years has been severe, with the weakening of several key affiliates and the consequent heavy loss of membership and resources. However, due to international trade union pressure and the threat of trade sanctions, as well as elections in Georgia, the GTUC has an opportunity to rebound. The GTUC is actively engaged in the legal reform process and is working to organise new unions and re-establish those who were hit hard by Saakshvili's coalition.
What needs to happen in 2013?
Labour law must be brought into line with international standards.
Labour inspectorate must be strengthened.
Employers must allow for the deduction and remittance of union dues where authorised.