In its third and final reading on September 29, Parliament of Georgia adopted sweeping amendments to the Labour Code with 82 votes in favor and 0 against. The draft changes were initiated by the ruling Georgian Dream party MPs – Irakli Kobakhidze, Rati Ionatamashvili, Sopio Kiladze, Davit Matikashvili, and GD turned independent MPs — Dimitri Tskitishvili, Tamar Chugoshvili and Tamar Khulordava. The opposition did not participate in voting.
The amended labor code combines newly added and reformulated articles about workplace discrimination, vacation regulations, payments, night shifts, working shifts and night jobs, individual working relations and other substantial labor-related issues. Importantly, the changes expand the State Labor Inspection mandate granting it the authority to operate unannounced examinations in all working sectors.
The notion and regulation of discrimination has been expanded, prohibiting discrimination due to race, skin color, language, ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation or any other personal, political, religious, social or health reasons “on purpose or negligently.” Employers are now obliged to ensure equal pay for a woman and a man conducting the same work.
An employer is now obliged to inform an employee about overtime work a week before, except the cases when warning in advance is not feasible. The overtime payment should be handed along with monthly salary, while employers are barred to task pregnant women, nursing mothers, persons with disabilities and minors, among others, on overtime without their consent. As for night jobs, the labor hours of persons working in hazardous conditions at night should not exceed 8 hours per every 24 hours.
The new Labor Code also expands and reformulates internship regulations, prohibiting the extension of unpaid internships over 6 months, while paid internships should not exceed a year. The same person has a right to work as an intern with the same employer only once. The Code now bars employers to hire an intern on the position of dismissed employee, aimed at avoiding exploitation of interns.
The labor reform now grants men right to paternity leave, the notion absent from the old code. The employees who want to use this right should inform the employers 2 weeks in advance. Compared to previous labor code, the amended document also aggravates regulations on massive layoffs in several directions, among them obliging the employers to inform the employees and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Social Affairs of Georgia about planned dismissals 45 days before. Moreover, the organization is compelled to start consultations on possible avoidance of massive layoffs with the employees’ association or other representatives before kicking off the process.
The new document also regulates break times, stating that if the working hours in a day are no less than 6 hours, the employee obtains the right to minimum 60 minutes break. The nursing mothers can ask for an additional one-hour break which should be counted as a working hour.
CSO, International Responses
The adoption of the Labor Code package has gained mostly positive feedback among civil society, as well as Georgia’s international partners. The Human Rights Watch welcomed the reform, calling it “much anticipated.”
The Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC), a local watchdog, stated that the reform is “a step forward” in the protection of working rights, but added that problems and limitations still remain. Among them, the watchdog emphasized the unidentified limit of permitted overtime hours and the absence of regulation on overtime pay with a 125% increased rate, removed by parliament from the draft in the second hearing.
The U.S. Embassy in Georgia has welcomed the amendments, stating that “holding employers to internationally recognized labor standards is essential to achieving inclusive growth, enhancing economic stability, and improving the investment climate.”
On his part, Carl Hartzell, Ambassador of the European Union to Georgia, congratulated Georgia for “a significant step forward for labor conditions”. The Ambassador also noted that that adoption of the new Labor Code is a strong message of the country “delivering on its EU commitments.”