On November 2, representatives of international organizations, diplomatic community, Government of Georgia, CSOs, and labor and business unions came together to discuss challenges and problems with working conditions and safety in Georgia. The conversation was organized by the East-West Management Institute’s ACCESS project. The event aimed to stimulate dialogue over creating effective mechanisms to tackle these problems in Georgia in the near future.
Safe working conditions are critical to Georgia’s commitments under the Association Agreement (AA) and the Visa-Liberalization Action Plane (VLAP) that the government recently signed with the European Union. According to these commitments, the Georgian Government launched the State Monitoring Program for Labor Protection in February, 2015. This March, the Ministry of Labor, Health, and Social Affairs also launched a special labor inspection department in an attempt to ensure businesses across the country were in compliance with the established standards.
The representative of the Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs, Ms. Elza Jgerenaia gave a brief overview of the activities carried out by the Labor Inspection Department to date. 75 organizations (25 of which were state-funded) have been inspected so far. The inspections revealed a number of violations such as: lack of a fire emergency system, increased dustiness in the workplace, etc. The department proceeded to issue relevant recommendations. Soon, the Department will begin to monitor implementation of these recommendations. However, there are some shortcomings in the program. Inspections currently are voluntary and only done in case of consent from the business or organization in question. The labor Inspection Department has no authority to order mandatory inspections of organizations they suspect of being in violation of established standards. Also, companies working in high-risk industries such as mining did not participate in any inspection thus far. Ms. Jgerenaia further elaborated on legislative initiatives surrounding these issues, namely: the new law on Labor Conditions Safety and Health will be enacted from January 1, 2016 that envisages inspection of companies not only from the health and safety point of view, but also on their performance on labor and human rights. Currently the draft law is under preparation. Before submission to the parliament, the draft law will be shared and discussed with CSOs, international organizations, and other stakeholders. Meanwhile the Ministry is working to transplant some of the EU directives to the local legislative initiatives.
The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) will conduct comprehensive research on state of labor inspection in Georgia and develop a concept for the government’s labor inspection mechanism. The concept will encompass worker’s rights perspective as well as standards and safety. Research is funded by EWMI ACCESS. As EMC’s representative, Lina Ghvininaidze said, despite recent positive changes in the Labor Code in 2013, the situation regarding labor rights protection has hardly changed. The research report and concept will reportedly be ready in 8 months. Ms. Ghvininnidze also underlined the importance of institutional capacity building of the Labor Inspection Department; strengthening its responsive and preventive functions, and allocating enough human and material resources to meet its institutional needs.
According to the ILO Chief Technical Advisor, Mr Zsolt Dudas, one of the most important things that can be done is to establish Occupational Safety and Health standards and to ensure that labor inspectors have unrestricted access to all companies and at all sites. Inspectors should follow transparent procedures that will eliminate gateways for corruption. Mr. Dudas also noted that apart from worker’s rights, the labor inspection is necessary for Georgia if it wants to be more competitive in the world of international trade.
The Head of the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation – Mr. Irakli Petriashvili, emphasized the need of awareness campaigns both among employers and their employees. “The statistics are really alarming: in 2014, 41 workers died and 66 were heavily injured at the workplace; in 2015, during the first 10 months, 32 people died and 42 were injured. It is of the interest for employers as well to observe health and safety standards and respect worker’s rights, as it improves productivity and helps to avoid extra costs (i.e. compensations to victims imposed by the court)”.
A Q&A session followed formal presentations. Representatives of CSOs, the Public Defender’s Office, international organizations and representatives of the US and German Embassies posed questions to speakers and shared their views.