EMC:Tkibuli has passed the scope of labor dispute and has become a large-scale social protest

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The ongoing full-scale strike in Tkibuli is a result of violations of labor rights and continuous exploitation of the employees and requires fundamental revision of labor policy by the state.

The strike in Tkibuli has been ongoing for the past twelve days. Around 1,300 employees of “Georgia Industrial Group” are on strike and the production process is completely halted in mines. The local population, the families of the miners and people employed in different sectors express their solidarity with the miners. In addition, the local government agrees with the requirements of the miners and stands with the strikers.

The main requests of the miners include: 30-40% increase in remuneration, improvement of labor safety and conditions, and guarantees that all employees will return to their workplaces after the strike. The fact that there are no alternative opportunities of employment in the city and the local economy completely depends on the operations in the mines, which makes the ongoing processes even more important.

Regardless of the harsh and hazardous labor, the workers of the Tkibuli mines receive only minimal remuneration. One of the main points of the agreement formed after the 2012 strike organized by the miners implied salary indexation; notwithstanding the recognition of its obligations, the enterprise failed to do so. What is more, the salaries were decreased by hundreds of GEL during the past 4 years. According to the miners, their mean monthly salary equals 500 GEL. With the new legislations on the mountainous regions, the tax exemptions for the workers of Tkibuli have been eliminated, which became an additional burden for the workers, together with the devaluation of GEL.

According to the employees, the conditions in the Tkibuli mine are extremely harsh and hazardous for the workers. In addition to constant risk to their health and life, the systems of social protection, healthcare and disease prevention, and emergency response are completely nonexistent. The labor conditions, equipment and tools used by workers are outdated and hazardous for the workers, continuously leading to injuries and death among workers.[1] Considering the high number of cases of death and injury especially alarming, the Public Defender has long been stressing the need to create labor inspection mechanisms.[2]

The situation in Tkibuli highlights the fundamental problems of the state labor policy, especially reflected on the human rights situation of the employees of heavy industry. Similar processes are ongoing in numerous industrial cities, as a result of severe human rights situation of heavy industry workers, their exploitation, and continuous practices of oppression. Apart from Tkibuli, a strike is ongoing in the Ksani Glass Container Factory and the mediation process is ongoing in the Zestaphoni Ferroalloy Plant. The production process is completely halted in Chiatura mines and the Rustavi Metallurgical Plant.

It is evident that, within the existing labor legislation, the state fails to secure labor rights, which directly relates to the ineffective labor inspection mechanisms. The Department for Monitoring Labor Conditions, which was created by the state with this purpose, has no authority to start inspection in enterprises and made binding decisions immediately, without the approval of enterprises, making it a completely ineffective instrument. Labor unions, local non-governmental organization and the Public Defender consider the mentioned mechanism ineffective. The 2016 Report of the European Commission, published within the scope of the Generalized Scheme of Preferences (GSP+), directly addresses the need of its refinement and strengthening.

The ongoing strike in Tkibuli has passed the scope of labor dispute and has become a large-scale social protest. In addition, the existing situation points to the necessity of complex discussion of the issue and its resolution through active involvement of high-level political authorities. Therefore, we consider that:

  • The labor rights situation, safety, and social protection of the people employed in heavy industry, including Tkibuli, should be prioritized on the agenda of the tripartite commission for social partnership;
  • An effective and working mechanism of labor inspection should immediately be created and its authority should, at the initial state, be extended to the enterprises which involve labor in severe and hazardous conditions.

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[1] The number of deaths and injuries due to production process, according to the official information of the Ministry of Internal Affairs: deaths – 48 (2012), 23 (2013), 45 (2014), 42 (2015);  injuries – 289 (2012); 111 (2013); 72 (2014); 82 (2015).

[2] The latest yearly report of the Public Defender, the section on Labor Rights.