A strike by a group of workers from metallurgical plant in Kutaisi came to an abrupt end on Thursday night after police detained over 30 strikers, who were camped outside the plant, the Georgian Trade Union Confederation said.
All detained participants of the strike were released several hours later, said the trade union, which coordinated the strike.
According to the Interior Ministry the police was called by the plant administration, which has complained that the strikers were stirring confrontation with other employees – those who refused to join the strike. The Interior Ministry said that police took several strikers to the police station and warned them that although they had the right to continue the strike, they should not interfere in the work of other employees.
The strike started on September 13 with workers demanding from the plant administration to create “elementary working conditions” and to reinstate several fired workers, who, they claimed, were sacked just because of their cooperation with trade unions.
Four of the strikers were on hunger strike.
The plant, Hercules, producing reinforcing bars for construction (rebar), is 87.5% owned by Euroasian Ventures FZE, company registered in Dubai’s Jebel Ali free commercial and industrial zone. The company’s main business is trading in metals, chemicals, machinery and related goods.
Rest of the plant’s 12.5% is owned by a Georgian individual, Paata Chkhenkeli, who is also chairman of board of directors of Euroasian Steels, a subsidiary through which Euroasian Ventures FZE owns the plant.
The plant employees about 400 people, mostly locals. According to the trade union up to 150 workers were participating in the strike.
Tamaz Dolaberidze, president of metallurgical, mining, chemical industry workers trade union, said that a convoy of police vehicles arrived outside the plant, where the strikers were camped, after 9:00pm on September 15 and started rounding up “the most active strikers.”
Dolaberidze, who was at the scene, said that police detained at 12 strikers on the scene, but later he had learnt that about 20 others were detained already after they left the protest venue as organizers called on the strikers to disperse peacefully.
“All of them were released at about 3am [on Friday],” Dolaberidze told Civil.ge. “After the release they told me that they had not been under any pressure by the police; they signed a written commitment not to participate in the strike anymore.”
According to the police, the strikers only signed papers confirming that they had been warned by the police against undertaking any illegal actions while on strike.
Dolaberidze said that the participants of the protest had done nothing illegal.
“They were not obstructing the work of others,” he said.
Dolaberidze, however, also added that when the plant administration brought in 40 new workers to replace those who were protesting, the strikers told new workers not to occupy a working place of others.
He also said that his trade union had yet to decide how to proceed further with the protest.
Strikes are rare in Georgia and the trade unions say that employers have upper hand over employees through labor code to discourage them from strikes.
Georgia’s labor code, passed in 2006, is slammed by local and international trade unions. International Labour Organisation (ILO) has expressed concerns with the lack of compliance by Georgia with core labor conventions.
According to one EU diplomat if unaddressed, these concerns may put at risk Georgia’s continuing inclusion in the EU’s General System of Preferences (GSP+) which allows Georgia to benefit from trade preferences from the EU. GSP+ system, however, itself remains underused by Georgia.
Concerns over labor rights in Georgia have also been raised by the United States. During a review of Georgia’s human rights situation by the UN Human Rights Council on June 8, the U.S. representative John C. Mariz expressed concern about the broader worker rights situation in Georgia. He said the U.S. “strongly supported” a recommendation to establishing a labor inspectorate in Georgia. Since the abolishment of the labor inspectorate in 2006, no other supervisory agency had been created to ensure full compliance with labor laws.
Georgian officials defend the current labor code, arguing that the authorities’ focus is to create “a comfortable” environment for an employer and to attract foreign investments.
“Until we are so much dependent on direct investments, we are obliged to defend and create comfort for the employers – people, who are bringing money,” Tbilisi Mayor, Gigi Ugulava, said on June 9.