Since 2006, oversight over labor conditions and rights was largely deregulated in Georgia. With the Labor Inspectorate terminated, Georgia’s labor policy has been frequently criticized for failing to meet the basic human rights and labor safety standards. During 2007- 2014, 314 deaths and 552 heavy injuries occurred at the workplace, mainly at heavy industrial zones. The 2013 amendments to the Labor Code somewhat improved legal safeguards for labor rights, but fell short of introducing tangible implementation mechanisms. In February 2015, the Government launched a State Monitoring Program for Labor Protection and in March re-established the Labor Inspection Department, though with the limited mandate to issue compliance recommendations and seek company consent before commencing the inspection.
EWMI ACCESS’ grantee, a Tbilisi-based CSO – Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) actively advocates for decent labor rights and security for workers at service industries and heavy industrial zones. It has been in the vanguard of recent miners’ strike developments, monitoring the Labor Inspection Department, collecting evidence through in-depth interviews with workers from the heavy industrial zones, engaging in strategic litigation on cases of violation and advocating for worker’s rights.
To raise the profile of the issue, EMC capitalized on the mass strike of coal miners in Tkibuli in western Georgia in February 2016, when about 1,200 local miners went on strike requesting higher salaries and improved working conditions. The Strike Committee (mostly comprised of the miners on strike) was in need for legal and strategic support and requested EMC’s involvement. EMC mobilized around 20 volunteers from youth groups from Tbilisi and journalists and joined the strike.
Over the course of the Strike, EMC representatives were actively providing legal and strategic advice to the workers and ensured that the process would not violate legally provided freedoms for free assembly and demonstration; EMC representatives also helped the Strike Committee formulate their demands in a written proclamation and participated in the critical negotiation meeting held between the government officials, trade union and the workers.
EMC mobilized support from the Public Defender, President’s administration and the political parties – they reached out to the Majoritarian MPs and leaders of some political parties who made public statements about Tkibuli events; The Public Defender, after consultations with EMC, got personally involved in a mediation process; additionally, the President’s adviser visited Tkibuli and made official statements regarding need and importance for stronger Labor Inspection mechanisms.
EMC’s role in communicating with media during the strike was of highest importance – the organization’s webpage provided live updates on strike developments– photos, news, videos and other information materials, that were widely shared through social and traditional media. The strike became a prime topic reported through national broadcasters with government officials, politicians and EMC representatives debating over solutions to the miners’ problems. The young activists from Tbilisi, who joined demonstrations in Tkibuli in support of the Tkibuli Coal Miners, inspired other students to organize street rallies in other parts of the country (Tbilisi, Batumi and Gori) giving the issue a nationwide importance.
The professionalism and credibility of EMC proved crucial in stopping the strike from growing into a violent event. After the Strike EMC scrutinized revised employment agreements circulated to workers and persuaded them not to sign it, as the new terms and conditions were largely ignoring the compromised solutions reached after the Strike. The Company is now redrafting the agreements. The Strike Committee member, miner from Tkibuli said: “Thanks to everybody, who woke me up that morning and informed me that new agreements were circulated; who did their best to persuade the workers not to sign the agreements. Thanks to Lina Ghvinianidze (EMC Representative), the Trade Unions and others who fight for dignity and justice”.
EMC is currently elaborating the case of Tkibuli to highlight the failure of the governmental institutions in protecting labor rights and demands practical and immediate improvements. EWMI ACCESS continues supporting the organization and hopes to bring policy solutions to the problem.