Population: 4,400,000
Capital: Tbilisi
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

The ultra-liberal Labour Code gives green light to union busting and the marginalisation of collective bargaining. The courts do not apply laws prohibiting anti-union discrimination. Important restrictions on trade union rights remain in place. At least 30 workers, many of them women, lost jobs in connection with their trade union activities.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: 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, significantly reduces workers' and trade union rights.

According to Article 37 (d), 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 anti-union discrimination is prohibited both by the Labour Code and the Penal Code there are no specific provisions to prevent dismissal related to trade union membership or activities.

Article 37 (d) has been used to suppress trade unions as well as those who oppose workplace discrimination or simply take a stand for workers' rights. The Supreme Court ruled that employers' discretionary right to dismiss a worker should not be deemed discriminatory and that the Labour Code of 2006 took precedence over the 1997 Law on Trade Unions.

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.

In 2008 the Government held consultations with the ILO and agreed to an independent and impartial assessment of the labour legislation and its implications. Moreover, on 16 December after several consultations, the government, the Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC, affiliated to the ITUC) and the Employers' Association signed a Tripartite Agreement that could be instrumental to bringing the national legislation into line with international labour standards and expanding cooperation with the ILO.

In April the European Commission, in its progress Report (on implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy), stated that the Labour Code had to be revised in line with the ILO standard if Georgia wanted to benefit from the additional trade preferences conditional on workers' rights (the GSP+ scheme). However, on 15 December the EU extended the GSP+ benefits to Georgia.

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 non-unionised workers instead. The code also gives employers the right to unilaterally establish the rules concerning a number of working conditions traditionally 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 2008

Background: Numerous social and human rights concerns were put on the backburner because of a full-blown military conflict between Georgia and Russia in August, which resulted in a massive loss of lives, homes and jobs. The bombings in Poti Port took the lives of 10 trade union members. The international trade union movement called for a complete ceasefire and offered aid to the stricken areas.

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. The GTUC reported reports numerous decisions where the Law on Trade Unions was simply ignored.

New law hits trade unions hard: More than 30 workers lost their jobs because of their trade union activities. Many others are afraid to loose the jobs and the GTUC estimates that they had lost around 20 000 members owing to the harassment and dismissals facilitated by the new Labour Code.

Update on union busting in the Port of Poti: The town of Poti on the Black Sea gained international notoriety for the blatant anti-unionism in its port. The Dockers and Seafarers' Union of Georgia challenged the dismissals of trade union activists in the Poti city court, quoting the ILO conventions in the hope that the court would rectify blatant anti-union discrimination. On 21 March, Poti city court rejected the lawsuit and then the trade union also lost its appeal to the Kutaisi city court. The court of appeal did not make any reference to ILO Convention 98, but motivated its decision on the grounds that the Labour Code has precedence over the Trade Union Act. The dismissed activists remained unemployed at the time of writing.

Nine activists dismissed from BTM Textile: On 16 March, 250 workers officially established a trade union and joined the GTUC Adjara branch at the company BTM Textile in Khelvachauri district of the Autonomous Republic of Adjara, which employs 500 women workers. Nine women were elected onto the union committee. The GTUC Adjara branch representative informed the employer about the new union on 10 April. The very next day all nine committee members were dismissed without any explanation. The remaining trade union members were threatened with dismissal, unless trade union activities at the company stopped. The trade unionists met with no success when trying to seek help from the municipal administration. The administration even agreed with the company's decision. The GTUC Adjara branch has challenged the dismissals in court.

Shop steward fired from Georgian State Electrosystems: On 6 March, after Dali Aduashvili, a shop steward at the Business Centre of Georgian State Electrosystems, called for social dialogue and collective bargaining, she was dismissed without any explanation. A few days earlier she had been offered a three-month fixed-term contract, whilst all the other workers had received a six-month contract. She had been working for the company since 1985.

Yellow trade union formed 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).

At the beginning of the year, all school directors and chairs of the boards of the public schools of the district of Bolnisi were invited to a meeting to be introduced to the new Professional Education Syndicate (PES). Registered in January, PES was founded by school directors, trainers from the government-controlled teacher training centres and a high official of the Ministry of Education. The school directors were invited to encourage their employees to switch their current trade union affiliation to the PES. A 50% refund was offered as an incentive on the fees for training for the teachers' certificate, and the latter was even offered free of charge in the Autonomous Republic of Adjara. While the teachers' certificate is not compulsory, it is strongly recommended to have one.

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