A new report presented by Human Rights Watch says the lives and health of workers in Georgia’s mines are at serious risk due to insufficient government regulation and weak labor protections. Years of deregulation results in mining practices that put workers’ safety in jeopardy, said HRW while presenting the study on August 22.
The 60-page report “‘No Year without Deaths: A Decade of Deregulation Puts Georgian Miners at Risk,” that is based on 80 interviews with workers, as well as other stakeholders, largely focused on industrial towns of Chiatura and Tkibuli in Western Georgian region of Imereti, that are known for manganese and coal mines, respectively.
The report aiming at “bringing into focus Georgia’s much-needed labor reform” noted that the worker safety is often viewed by the state in a narrow, technical sense, in disconnect from the general issue of workers’s rights.
Dire Working Conditions in Mines
Following Rose Revolution, Georgia abolished Labour Inspectorate in 2006 and reduced worker protections in the labour code, that aimed at attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the country. “Years of deregulation have left Georgian workers without adequate protection,” Human Rights Watch found.
The report highlighted the practices that violate workers’ rights, including long hours, inadequate breaks, and no weekly rest days, non-payment of overtime hours, failure to provide copies of written contracts, and unfair wage deductions.
Workers in the largest manganese producer, Georgian Manganese told HRW that “they work 12-hour shifts underground, including at night, for 15 straight days.”
Miners, the report found “are often exhausted, and they have faced penalties for failure to make quotas” of mining volume. The watchdog noted that because of the rush to meet such quotas or lack of sufficient rest, workers “had suffered deep cuts, were buried under rocks as roofs collapsed, lost limbs, suffered concussions, or narrowly avoided serious accidents.”
Further, the report says that “during shifts, the company requires miners to live in a dormitory, in part to maximize production”, which “unfairly interferes with their freedom of movement and their family and home lives.”
Unfinished Path to Reregulation
“It is entirely in Georgia’s power to protect workers and improve conditions for their health and safety,” Corina Ajder, Finberg Fellow at Human Rights Watch, the author of the report said.
“We acknowledge that there are positive steps since 2013,” Ajder added, at the presentation, emphasizing also the importance of the amendments in the organic law on labour inspectorate in February 2019. “Georgia’s gradual approach to this urgent problem ignores the risks of life and death”, however, she said.
Ajder writes in the report, the current, “gradual approach” seems to reflect “greater concern with protecting Georgia’s flexible labor market than a sense of urgency to protect labor rights”,
Even with somewhat positive developments, the report noted, the mandate of the labour inspectorate remains limited. Giorgi Gogia, Associate Director of Europe and Central Asia Division at Human Rights Watch noted the challenge of separating labour rights from the safety concerns. He says “labour inspection sees the safety issue in a narrow way. It does not pay attention to the problems such as working hours, workers’ exhaustion or other issues that lead to such tragedies.”
“A minimum wage, a specific rate for overtime pay or pay for work during holidays, no limit on night work, and no requirement that employers provide workers with copies of contracts” were named by HRW as other gaps in Georgian law, that needs to address.
Georgia’s Unfulfilled International Obligations
“The limited mandate of the Labour Inspectorate does not comport with Georgia’s obligations under the European Social Charter and ILO conventions, nor does it live up to commitments made under the EU-Georgia Association Agreement, signed in 2014,”, the report said.
Stressing the need of urgent reforms to ensure workers rights and safety, HRW calls on the government to meet international labour standards and Georgia’s international human rights commitments. This includes, ratifying ILO Conventions, rights watchdog notes in recommendations.
It recommends the government to ensure establishment of fully-fledged, independent and adequately staffed and trained Labour Inspectorate that would safeguard workplace safety and working conditions.
Human Rights Watch calls on Georgia’s international partners, including the EU and the U.S. to actively encourage Georgia to align its labour laws with international standards.
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