About 400 employees of the Social Service Agency in 31 cities and municipalities across Georgia will go on strike starting this Monday, unless their demands for higher salaries and better working conditions are met.
After some four-month-long failed negotiations with the Agency and the Ministry of Internally Displaced Persons from the Occupied Territories, Labor, Health and Social Affairs, the employees filed today an official notice about the strike.
The Solidarity Network, an independent labor union that assists the employees, on January 13 unveiled a list of nine demands of the workers, including 100% raises in the monthly salaries of social agents and senior social agents as well as the specialists and senior and chief specialists.
The base monthly salary of social agents and senior social agents amounts to GEL 250 (USD 80) and GEL 550 (USD 180), respectively. Besides, social agents earn per examined case a commission of GEL 6 (USD 1.95), an amount they also demand to be doubled.
Meanwhile, the monthly remuneration for the specialists ranges between GEL 450-600 (USD 146-195), Sopo Japaridze of the Solidarity Network told Civil.ge. According to the labor union, these rates have remained unchanged since 2007.
The workers demand the agency to match the salaries for specialists in the regional centers –at all levels of seniority– to that of their counterparts in capital Tbilisi.
The list of demands further includes legally guaranteeing annual inflation indexing of salaries, reimbursing social agents’ work-related travel costs, providing additional pay to agents when they are asked to perform additional tasks such as aiding other state bodies.
The workers have also called on the agency to sign a collective labor agreement with the participation of the labor union, to hire more employees, and to safeguard that chief legal specialists do not lose jobs in case of a reorganization.
One of the employees explained they decided to strike because the Social Service Agency and Health Ministry disregarded their employees and left their demands unanswered.
Civil.ge has reached out to the Health Ministry but they declined to comment on the matter.
The decision to strike followed a collective labor dispute kicked off on September 23, 2021, after 246 employees of the Social Service Agency issued a list of their demands.
In October, Georgia’s Fair Labor Platform, uniting five NGOs and independent trade unions, called on the Agency to “prevent a crisis in the state social protection system by recognizing the staff’s difficult working conditions and taking timely, effective steps to improve them,” warning about the potential strike.
The employees of the Social Service Agency took to the industrial action back in March 2019 with similar demands. After an eight-day walkout, hundreds of social workers across the country returned to work, citing their “responsibility to the beneficiaries.” Some of their key demands, however, were left unaddressed both by the Agency and the Ministry.
The social agents and their co-workers are not the only ones expressing discontent with the way the Ministry has handled its employees, as Georgian nurses too, for years now, have demanded increased salaries and better working conditions.
Strikes have become a common occurrence in Georgia, with 2021 counting a number of industrial actions, many of which ended with full or partial success.
Some of them include the May strike of industrial workers in Rustavi who achieved pay rise, partially met demands for Chiatura miners, and a successful strike of Borjomi mineral water factories, as well as an industrial action by port workers in the coastal city of Batumi whose key demands on compensation and labor conditions were granted in December.