Hundreds of social workers across the country, who went on strike on March 25, went back to work today, citing their “responsibility to the beneficiaries.”
The strikers, who are employees of the Social Service Agency, said at a news briefing on April 2, that they plan to establish a trade union and negotiate collectively on all outstanding issues with the Ministry of Health.
They also explained that a day earlier they addressed the Parliament’s Human Rights and Health Committees and demanded to ensure – as part of the Parliament’s oversight function – better coordination between the Health and Finance Ministers with the purpose of improving social workers’ labor conditions. They also noted that the two ministers will appear before the Parliament’s Committee on Healthcare on April 15.
What was the strike about?
Hundreds of social workers launched a collective dispute against the Social Service Agency on February 8, 2019. The process of mediation, which lasted for a month-and-a-half, yielded no results prompting a nationwide strike of the social workers.
The strikers posed 22 demands to the Health Ministry, but were ready to resume work if six key demands were met. Specifically, they wanted the government to increase of pay – which is one of the lowest in public service. They also wanted the authorities to hire more social workers, provide vehicles for transportation and add more psychologists and lawyers to the staff of the Social Service Centers.
The strike lasted for eight days, during which the beneficiaries did not receive services. Health Minister Davit Sergeenko claimed nonetheless, that “their work is done by other employees of the Ministry and it will continue until we make sure that there is no disruption”. Observers claimed though that other workers of the Ministry did not possess theoretical knowledge and practical experience sufficient for performing social work.
Eventually, on March 28, the fourth day of the strike, Health Minister Davit Sergeenko met social workers for several hours. Following the meeting, the Minister said an agreement has been reached and social workers will go to work in several days. The striking social workers, however, disagreed, saying no consensus has been reached with the Ministry.
On March 29, the Parliament’s Human Rights and Civil Integration Committee also deliberated on the issue . The Ministry of Health was represented by Deputy Minister Tamar Barkalaia, who explained that the Ministry was ready to cooperate with social workers in frames of a four-point plan offered to them. These points are:
- Qualitative and quantitative revision of the work done by social workers;
- Strengthening feedback and communication systems;
- Technical support – improvement of infrastructure and technical needs;
- Transport provision.
She also noted that starting 2020, salaries of social workers will increase to GEL 1,200 (cca EUR 397 by current official exchange rate).
Social workers, who also attended the committee sitting, explained that they wanted to offer better services to the beneficiaries, rather than increase their personal comfort and welfare.
A group of civil society organizations released a joint statement on April 1 dedicated to the issue of social workers. Seven CSOs, among others Georgian Young Lawyers Association, Partnership for Human Rights and Human Rights and Monitoring Center, called on the Ministry of Health:
- To acknowledge at a political level the importance of the work done by social workers for the country and various vulnerable groups;
- To improve their working conditions as much as possible;
- To offer such services to beneficiaries, which will make the work done by social workers more efficient;
- To act with the Georgian government and Parliament in a coordinated manner.
What particular issues were agreed between the Ministry and social workers?
- Social workers will no longer perform technical works;
- More cars will be allocated to Social Service Centers;
- Lawyers will be added to 12 social service centers;
- Signature procedures will be simplified and become electronic
- 1 psychologist will be added in Tbilisi;
- A tender will be announced to upgrade Social Service Centers’ infrastructure and working conditions.
What are the outstanding issues?
- The council to react and respond to the problems that social workers have with the system of legal guardianship was not established;
- The issue of increasing social workers’ salaries already in 2019 was not considered.
- The issue of appointing a representative for court cases was also not resolved.