The Health Ministry stepped up efforts to mediate between the striking workers and the management of IDS Borjomi Georgia, a local branch of the Russian-owned mineral water giant, as the Government expects to become a co-owner of the company next week.
Prime Minister Irakli Garibashvili announced today that the Economy Ministry’s negotiations with the Alfa Group — which holds a 60% stake in IDS Borjomi International, the parent company of the Georgian branch — have been “practically wrapped up.” He did not elaborate as to how much of the shares the Government will take over.
In the wake of the news, the Health Ministry dispatched Labor Inspector Beka Peradze and mediator Ana Samsonidze to hold meetings with the company management and its workers, about 400 of which have been on a strike since May 31.
After arriving at the Borjomi factories, where the workers organized a picket today, mediator Samsonidze refrained from providing any additional details about the relaunched mediation process.
Labor Inspector Peradze said meanwhile that the Inspection Service had begun to probe into the concerns voiced by the workers, including the alleged delay in salaries.
Head of the Labor, a trade union representing the Borjomi employees, Giorgi Diasamidze said he did not expect the relaunched mediation to “conclude in a day,” but stressed that the workers are ready to see the process through.
Meanwhile, he said the strike would continue “until a deal is formalized” with the Borjomi.
The workers had initially launched the strike on May 31, after a previous 21-day-long mediation process ended without results.
The Workers’ Stance
The striking workers demand the reinstatement of their 49 colleagues dismissed in a reorganization, payment of delayed salaries, forming a collective agreement with the employer, and for the company to stop “blackmailing and threatening” outspoken employees.
Amid the strike, the workers claimed today, the IDS Borjomi brought in 10 new employees, Russian nationals who allegedly arrived in Tbilisi-controlled territory from the occupied Tskhinvali Region/South Ossetia.
Giorgi Diasamidze, head of Labor, a trade union representing the Borjomi workers, claimed that the company paid the Russian nationals 5-6 times the pay of its ordinary employees.
The two Borjomi factories currently operate at what the company calls a “minimal capacity,” only to serve the needs of the domestic market.
Following the arrival of the mediator and the Labor Inspector, IDS Borjomi Georgia said it is “ready for open dialogue” and to brief the authorities over its sanctions-related troubles and the reorganization process at the company.
Commenting on the delayed salaries, the firm said that due to “extremely limited financial resources” it firstly makes payments to those employees who “are at this stage participating in the production process.”
The IDS Borjomi also denied the employees’ claims that it had brought in new workers from elsewhere.
The IDS Borjomi Georgia first went public about its sanctions-related woes in late April, when it announced a temporary suspension of production. The Georgia-based Borjomi branch said it had trouble accessing its bank accounts, receiving foreign currency revenues and settling with creditors.
Alfa Group’s owner, Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman, as well as its subsidiary Alfa Bank — the largest private financial institution in Russia — have been hit with Western sanctions.
The Alfa Group has held the majority stake of 60% in IDS Borjomi since 2013. The remainder of the shares belongs to the family of deceased Georgian billionaire Badri Patarkatsishvili, the former full owners of the company.