Miners on strike in Chiatura in early November 2012. (DFWatch photo.)

TBILISI, DFWatch — The Georgian Dream coalition had on its agenda to change many things after coming to power, including improve conditions in the work place by amending the Georgian labor code, which was amended in 2006 and has been criticized since both locally and by the international community.

But government officials can not yet specify what exactly they plan to amend and how they plan to change the situation for workers.

When the coalition gained victory in the parliamentary election on October 1, different groups of workers went on strike hoping to finally improve their slave-like conditions and increase their humiliatingly low salaries. Those included people working in mines, a port, for the railway, an energy company, and others. In some cases, agreement was reached with employers, but some of the strikes are still continuing.

Some believe the wave of strikes is planned sabotage against the new government, while workers claim they are hoping for the new government to finally listen to their problems and help to improve conditions.

Parliament has now started reviewing the issues about the labor code and is about to adopt a first amendment.

November 22, parliament discussed amending article 37, which allows employers to fire workers at any time, without giving any explanation.

The draft of the article suggests not giving this authority to an employer as well as fire employee who is on maternity leave.

This article has created problems for years, but the situation worsened when the new political player Bidzina Ivanishvili entered the scene. Many teachers, lecturers, and others employed at public bodies were fired allegedly for political reasons – for themselves being supporters of the Georgian Dream coalition or having a family member who had been an activist for it.

At the parliament session MPs underlined that the amendment will improve workers’ condition. But minority representatives remarked that it may reassure investors to invest in this country and do business.

The main argument of the former government while introducing the liberal labor code in 2006 was to attract investors, by granting employers many rights, but take away almost all the rights workers had.

Jaap Wienen, Deputy General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, says that the predecessors of the new government have never understood that trade unions are not trouble makers, but partners that can guarantee peace in labor relations that can support and improve quality and quantity of production and that can contribute to the stability of the country as such.

“It is of course exactly what you need now,” he said at the third International Conference on Social Dialogue and Labor Standards in Georgia, which was organized by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung November 22.

“International Labor Organization (ILO) and EU reports show that the former government did not respect neither the international standards like the ILO standards, nor the EU standards and respect for workers,” he says.

“Apparently your predecessors were advised by people officers perhaps of ministries and god knows from which isolated places they got their inspiration – the Trade Unions and labor rights are the enemies of stimulating for the investments what’s a huge-huge mistake and what a shame.”

He and the other guests at the conference agreed on the importance of social dialogue, which would involve the government, workers, trade unions and employers to achieve agreement. This would improve the difficult situation in the labor sphere.

Jaap Wienen sees a problem in how the previous government treated workers, which resulted mass strikes in the country.

“You have to understand that the pain and frustrations based on behavior, misbehavior towards workers in the past has to burst out. We see that these days with spontaneous strikes.”

Frank Zach, Head of Section for International Trade Union Policy Department of the German Trade Union Confederation also thinks today’s strikes is an effect of the disrespect shown to the dignity of workers.

At the conference, the Deputy Justice Minister was present, who spoke about the government’s plans to improve the labor sphere and amend the labor code, and its readiness to cooperate with the international community and local trade unions.

The guests from local organizations and trade unions spoke about the necessity of improvements in certain fields. On the one hand, this is massive harassment and discrimination against trade union members, which makes the existence of this body less effective.

In recent years Georgia has seen many strikes of workers being fired for activity in trade unions.

Another guest from the trade union remarked that it is necessary to have a body which can monitor labor safety, as all such bodies were abolished by the previous government for being corrupt; the necessity to defend the rights of women and guarantee paid maternity leave.

“Employees need to be able to operate in a highly competitive environment not just in Georgia, not just in the Caucasus region, but increasingly globally,” Brent Wilton, General Secretary of International Organization of Employers said, “because Georgia now is no different from any other country in the world, border is open, trade is moving, money moves, you have to be able to position Georgia in a global context now.”