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Workers still on strike

By Ana Robakidze
Wednesday, October 24
It has been about ten days now and an estimated 3,700 miners are on strike in Chiatura, in west Georgia. They request their salary be doubled and improved working conditions. Workers are also expecting that the new government will pay proper attention to their problems and help them to negotiate with their employer.

The miners are employed by Georgian Manganese Holding, a Georgian subsidiary of the British company Stemcor, producing manganese and ferroalloys. Reportedly, the average salary of miners is 500 GEL. The company has promised a salary increase of 25%, but the workers do not find the promise to be reliable.

Strikers were supported by Georgian students. An estimated 50 students went to Kutaisi and protested against the current Labour Code in front of the new parliament building while the inaugural session was going on. The students say that the code is protecting only employers’ interests, which is incorrect, as employees are left unprotected. Afterwards, the Kutaisi students went to Chiatura to join the strike there.

Giorgi Chubinidze, from students’ union Laboratory 1918 told radio Liberty that the workers are forced to do their job in unbearable conditions, the mine conditions do not correspond to international standards and the equipment miners have to use is manufactured in the 1940s and 1950s. “It is a lie that the investor is going to develop the infrastructure and improve the working environment,” he says.

Maka Kvaratskhelia, Chair of the Public Relations Department at Georgian Manganese, told Radio Liberty, that a commission has been created which carefully studies all queries workers have stated. Currently, there are 8 members in the commission and Kvaratskhelia calls workers to get involved and join the commission. Strikers are not going to follow Kvaratskhelia’s advice. They hope that the new government will create its own commission to study the situation in Chiatura.

Malkhaz Tsereteli, majoritarian MP from Chaitura, who is also a member of Georgian Dream Coalition, holds daily meetings with the strikers. Tsereteli is concerned that the details of the contract between Georgian government and British investor are still unavailable. He considers that the mentioned contract should be the first thing reviewed and reconsidered by the new government.

Irakli Petriashvili, chair of the Trade Union in Georgia plans to meet mine workers and help them to negotiate with Georgian Manganese Holding. Petriashvili spoke of the irrelevance of Georgian Labour Code to international standards with radio Liberty. Petriashvili says that at least minimal labor standards should be established in the country to make sure the rights of both employers and employees are protected.

Some problems have also occurred at Georgian Railways, were the chief executive officer and chairman of the board of directors, Irakli Ezugbaia, has resigned. Employees of the company, which is a state-owned company, have announced that if their salary is not increased and the working conditions are not improved within a short period of time, they will start a mass-protest and will go on strike. Representatives of the railways labor union have held meetings with the management; however, no consensus has been achieved so far.

Mine and railways workers are not the only one currently protesting in the country, IDPs gathered in front of the Georgian Dream central office. Their request is not related to labor standards in the country though. IDPs are not happy with the nominee the Georgian Dream has named for the post of the ministry of IDPs and Refugees, as they say David Darakhvelidze will not be able to lead the ministry properly. The protesting IDPs have instead requested Lela Guledani to become the future minister, who has been working on IDP related issues for over 20 years. As one of the protesters commented, Guledani was the one protecting their rights during the many years and she will make a perfect candidate for the post.