Students, together with human rights activists and trade unions, organised a demonstration on 7 February in Georgia’s capital, to protest the mass firing of employees from a nitrogen plant in Rustavi, a town 20 km south of Tbilisi.
The activists gathered at Rose Revolution Square, in the city centre, at noon, marching towards Freedom Square and the offices of Bank of Georgia (BOG).
‘The nitrogen plant under the ownership of BOG will either be conserved or will have a new investor, which means that there will be difficult working conditions for workers, low salaries, while a group of people will become richer’, a participant of a protest explained. They said that the BOG purchased the company and now plan to sell it, however this has yet to be confirmed by either the bank or the company.
BOG’s press-office told On.ge that the bank doesn’t own the Azoti plant. ‘We haven’t purchased, and we don’t own this company’.
The protesters demanded that the fired workers be reinstated, and that the company sign a new contract with them, as the current contracts contradict the Labour Code of Georgia.
Three-hundred-and-fifty employees of the Azoti nitrogen plant were fired on 30 January without explanation. The company signed new contracts with the remaining workers.
The demonstration temporarily blocked on of the city’s main streets, Rustaveli Avenue. There were some clashes with the police, who were attempting to contain the activists.
Irakli Kakabadze, a writer and an activist, told OC Media that the rights of employees are constantly abused in Georgia.
‘The banking sector robs people, the government protects banks, but not citizens. If our demands aren’t satisfied, then this could turn into civil disobedience’, he said.
The Auditorium 115 student movement was one of the organisers of this demonstration. Levan Lortkipanidze, from the movement, said that BOG usually does its best to obtain industrial facilities in Georgia.
‘We demand that they restore these people’s jobs and organise basic labor conditions for them. We want the bank’s leadership to take responsibility for the social conditions of the workers’, he said.
He remembered that there was a similar situation with a metallurgy plant in Rustavi, where workers were fired and only one workshop was left operating in the plant.
‘They fired employees from the plant and officially said that they planned to fire a small number of workers, and that the plant would continue functioning normally. But in the end there is only one workshop left out of 17’, Lortkipanidze added.
Workers from the nitrogen plant remembered that there were times, even after the Soviet Union collapsed, when there were more than 7000 employees in the plant. Today there are only 2000, a number which keeps shrinking.
Levan Sigua has worked at the plant for 21 years. On 26 January he was told that he should not show up to work at the plant the next morning.
‘The head of the shift called the head of our department about my pass and was told that I had to pack my things that day because I wouldn’t be let in the plant from the next day, and I understood everything’, Sigua told us.
‘Our fertilisers are exported to 90 countries all over the world. We used to produce 1,600 tonnes of fertiliser a day. It was loaded on trains and exported for sale. You wouldn’t find a single piece of it left in the plant. Everything was sold out’, he says.
The plant’s administration claims that the workers have been fired temporarily, but the workers and civil activists do not believe this.
The activists plan to hold another rally in Tbilisi on 10 February.