Support is mounting for the three imprisoned metallurgy workers in Kutaisi. According to their labor union, they have been forced to sign a statement promising to never again go on strike.
The appearant violation of their basic human rights had brought nearly thirty non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to Kutaisi Monday to show support for the three, who work at the city’s metallurgical plant.
“Today’s protest is a show of solidarity with people who didn’t even have any political demands,” said Aslan Lortkipanidze, chairman of The Union of Independent Experts, an Adjarian NGO. “They are in jail just because they fought for their labor rights.”
“This misconduct must be immediately investigated and certain individuals punished” — Tamar Chugoshvili, Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association
Kutaisi is Georgia’s second largest city, 200 km west of the capital, Tbilisi. Workers at the plant have been pressuring to improve their conditions since summer, but on 15 September their strike was forcefully broken up by police. Three days later, three of the striking workers were arrested and sentenced to ten days in prison.
Supporters massed in the city on Monday to demand an immediate investigation into this appearant violation of labor rights. Tamar Chugoshvili, chairman of Georgian Young Lawyer’s Association, a Tbilisi-based legal advocacy group, explained that police exceeded their rights and violated Georgian law when they broke up the strike and later arrested three of the workers.
“Police detained more than thirty people after the dispersal without the required formalities,” Tamar Chugoshvili told DFWatch. “That means it was an unlawful arrest. Later they sentenced three workers to a ten-day administrative detention. This misconduct must be immediately investigated and certain individuals punished.”
The Georgian Labor Code guarantees workers the rights to strike, but is criticized for being unbalanced and discriminatory toward employees.
Workers at the Kutaisi smelter, which is owned by Eurasian Steel Ltd, a company in turn owned by an Indian investor, had been demanding improvements to their work conditions. According to the Georgian Trade Union, most workers detained were soon released, except of three who after their arrest were forced to sign letters saying they would never again attend strikes.
The International Union of Metallurgists, the International Labor Organization and the International Trade Union Confederation have all expressed their concern about the developent and in a joint letter asked President Mikheil Saakashvili and Prime Minister Nika Gilauri to intervene.
“Together with other trade unions we will do our best to bring it to world’s attention and publicize this social shame,” reads part of the letter sent by the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM).
A larger rally is planned for 1 October, immediately after the three prisoners are to be released, according to the Georgian Trade Union.
Kutaisi was once an important industrial center with a significant production of cars, but today few big places of employment remain but the metallurgical plant. President Mikheil Saakashvili has taken aim of making the city into a second capital by making it seat of parliament and other central state institutions. A brand new parliament building is set to open next year.