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Poti Port is paralyzed; employees demand better working conditions

By Salome Modebadze
Monday, November 5
The workers of Poti Port started a protest rally on November 1.

Protesters who were promised to have salaries according to their knowledge, professionalism and merits say they are tired from empty promises and need higher salaries and better conditions.

“We did not want to go on a strike but they [administration] did not take our complaints into consideration,” Gocha Cheminava, one of the participants of the protest rally said.

Doubting that the administration would follow the promises given to the workers Cheminava said the workers have lost their hopes and do not trust the administration.

General Director of Poti Port Joseph Crowley thinks that the only way in solving the problem is through “a constructive dialogue” because the suspension of activities at the port would not only damage the workers, but also the country’s economy. “If the port will not work, its consumers would find another route for transporting the cargo and when the port loses the cargo it is very difficult to return it,” Crowley said at a press conference on November 2.

Encouraging the workers to stop protesting he said their salaries have been increased by 20% from last year, while the system of compensation and profit considering increasing salaries according to their professionalism will start from January 2013 instead of April of the same year as it was planned before.

Over 400 former employees of Poti Port dismissed in December 2011 also joined the wave of protests and went on a hunger strike. Since their removal, they have been receiving one-year financial compensation from the Port’s administration which exhausts in December this year.

Hoping that Prime Minister Bidzina Ivanishvili will not leave them with their troubles, the women protesters worry that they cannot deal with the bank credits or communal expenses without their jobs. “We know that there is no sense in talking,” Lela Sichinava, a former employee said. Darejan Machaidze said she would either die from hunger or be restored to her job.

International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) called for an immediate end to the strike in the Port of Poti. Fady Asly, ICC Georgia Chairman, said at a joint press conference with Crowley that “Poti Port is the entry gate for the Caucasus and Central Asia and cannot be taken hostage and held at ransom by a bunch of paid people who through the manipulation of honest, but gullible workers, intend to achieve their criminal goals.”

Doubting that the recent series of strikes within several corporate sectors in different regions aim to destabilize the country and weaken the newly appointed government, Asly addressed the General Prosecutor’s Office to investigate the “well planned and remote-controlled actions which are criminal in essence” and “uncover the parties involved in instigating those destructive movements in the country.”

Supporting the legitimate rights of workers, the ICC condemned the negative impact that “these illegitimate and politically motivated strikes and social actions are having on businesses and on the image of Georgia.”

Political analyst Soso Tsiskarishvili connected “the virus” of strikes with the “quality of democracy” Georgia had experienced under the governance of the United National Movement (UNM).

Tsiskarishvili told The Messenger that the employees of Poti Port and other large organizations (like Chiatura mine) did not express their protest towards the pressure from the former government in fear of losing their jobs; but he said after they breathed “the air of freedom” after the victory of the Georgian Dream coalition they started talking about their pains in public.

The analyst said the “slave” labor code established in the times of President Saakashvili’s “pseudo-democracy” proves that the country was developing the liberal rules of the game for the employers and feudal rules – for their employees.