TBILISI, DFWatch – The labor code should contribute to employment, faster investments and motivate investors, and only after this may it possible to think about how to improve the rights and conditions of workers in Georgia.

This is the position of the country’s parliament and government.

The pro-government channel Rustavi 2 reviewed the Georgian Labor Code in its midday program Business Kurieri a few days after EU published its annual report on the implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy, in which conditions in the work place is mentioned as a source of concern requiring improvements.

“Respect for labor rights and in particular Georgia’s non-compliance with certain provisions of international labor rights conventions continued to be of concern. There were increasing concerns that property rights were not sufficiently respected.”

Program host Akaki Gogichaishvili invited Irakli Petriashvili, head of Georgian Trade Unions, into the TV studio to speak about the labor code. Georgian Trade Unions has for many years suggested bills and legislative amendments to improve conditions in the work place, but the government has not been willing to to change amendments made to the labor code in 2006, which completely changed the situation in this area.

The EU document focuses on two particular conventions by the International Labor Organization’s (ILO).

The ILO’s recommendation in regards to conditions in the work place are: “Improve labor rights; fully implement ILO core conventions No 87 Freedom of Association and the right to Organize and No 98 Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining and recommendations issued by ILO in this respect to Georgia in 2010; support the creation of a fair and transparent institutionalized labor conflict regulation mechanism to prevent the escalation of local labor conflicts.”

The journalist asked whether it will be enough to implement those two conventions, whether that would solve all problems with the labor code of Georgia, to which Petriashvili answered that those two conventions will be a guarantee in terms of defending the rights of trade unions, which will then solve existing problems in workplace conditions.

Head of the Trade Unions named several problems. One of them is that the labor code does not require an employer to give a reason for firing someone. Other problems are safety in the workplace and maternity leave.

It’s obvious that the work environment needs to be made safe, he says, as the number of accidents has increased by 150 percent. But at this point the journalist didn’t let him finish what he was saying and asked question what would change if employer would have been obliged to explain the reason of firing.

“Currently when an employee goes to court (if there is any point of going to court, because chances are minimal) the employee has to prove to the court that he is a victim of discrimination and that’s why he or she was fired,’ Petriashvili explains, ‘that’s why the reason should be observed in document, and in this case employer will have to prove correctness of his own actions.”

The number of people being fired without reason has increased recently, as people are fired for their political views, or for the political activism of someone in their family.

Later in 2011, noisy events were reported from western Georgia, when metallurgists went on strike.  Workers were arrested during a strike and forced to sign letters promising that they wouldn’t go on strike any more. There were reports of discrimination for being member of a trade union and participating in labor activism.

But there are recent indications that the government plans certain changes in the labor code. The host of Business Kurieri could please viewers with the news that the government has decided to cancel the 90-day time limit on strikes.

“Now you can strike permanently,” he said, smiling, and invited Gigi Tsereteli, Vice Speaker of Parliament, on the show to speak about the labor code.

Tsereteli says that the main challenge for the Georgian government, parliament and people remains unemployment. This is the approach lawmakers have to labor legislation today.

“It should contribute to simpler economic relations, faster employment of the population.”

He said they never refused to discuss improving social and labor standards. The government actively cooperates with ILO and other organizations, as the labor code ‘isn’t some kind of saint book, so that amendments weren’t allowed.’

“But there are real everyday problems here and I also want to note that there is no demand for replication of all regulations which the EU currently has, and neither is it in our interest, because we have specific economic parameters, specific level of employment and unemployment,” Tsereteli said.

In 2006, the government decided to simplify the environment for investors and economic relations in order to stimulate the creation of jobs. As a result, parliament adopted changes which freed employers from many obligations, while offering few guarantees and rights to employees.

The goal of the government then was to restrict government intervention in business and simplify relations between an employer and an employee, Tsereteli says.

“The labor code should firstly contribute to employment, easier and faster investments.”

So the code should be motivating for employers, and then it is possible to think about conditions and rights of workers, program author concluded with a smile. He added that today’s topic was really difficult.

A survey  done by the National Democratic Institute which was presented in October 2011 showed that two thirds of Georgians think of themselves as unemployed. The lack of jobs was the top priority among people interviewed. To the question “Do you consider yourself employed?”, 67% answered no; 33% yes.

Nearly the same picture is reported in March 2012, in the same kind of survey: 70% consider themselves unemployed, 45% are looking for a job, and 23% are retired or not looking for a job.

The official unemployment figures are much lower and do not enjoy much trust locally. Looking at official numbers for the period since adopting the new labor code in 2006 until 2010, the number of unemployed has increased.

The level of unemployment in 2006 was 13.6 percent, 13.3 in 2007, 16.5 in 2008, 16.9 in 2009 and 16.3 percent in 2010. The Russo-Georgian war in 2008 caused businesses to close.