Tbilisi metro drivers who demand to have their salaries increased by 45% will be allowed to legally go on strike in a month, the Tbilisi City Court ruled on 2 May. The strike was originally planned for 3 May and was postponed after metro operator Tbilisi Transport Company appealed to the court.
On 18 April, Tbilisi metro drivers demanded a salary raise due to harsh working conditions. They warned they would go on strike on 3 May, causing paralysis to whole metro system. Drivers said an average driver made ₾1,150 ($465) a month gross, and that their hourly pay was ₾7 ($3), which they demanded should be raised to ₾10 ($4).
On 30 April, the metro drivers’ trade union Ertoba 2013 said they took all possible measures to avoid causing the metro system to shut down, but there were no other options left.
‘A metro driver’s salary hasn’t changed since 2013. This profession is harsh, injurious, and is listed among top ten most dangerous jobs. Train drivers have to work in life-threatening conditions — vibration, eyesight problems caused by spending time underground, noise, air pollution, cardiovascular diseases’, a statement by Ertoba 2013 read.
Metro driver Nugzar Gagua said they worked on an extremely demanding schedule. He said metro drivers couldn’t get enough rest, which caused health problems.
‘You may be starting at 5 a.m. and finishing at 1 a.m. It means a driver can’t go home. He has to stay and get up at 5 a.m. again to finish at 9 p.m.’, Gagua said in a video posted by Solidarity Network Workers’ Centre, a labour right’s group.
He said that because of such an unstable schedule, they are unable to enjoy their lives outside of work.
‘On public holidays, when everybody celebrates at home, drivers may have to go to work. And speaking of finances, we can’t have two jobs. We are not allowed to and even if we were, we wouldn’t be able to. This is the only source of income to sustain our families’, says Gagua.
Tbilisi officials claimed it was impossible to raise the salaries due to ‘economic conditions’.
On 30 April, Tbilisi Transport Company is owned by the Tbilisi City Hall noted that they had met metro drivers but made it clear that they wouldn’t ‘raise the salaries of particular groups’ as it would cause discontent among other workers. The company operates not only Tbilisi’s metro system, but also buses.
‘There are 6,300 people employed in our company and improving their working conditions is one of our priorities’, they stated on 30 April.
In reaction to the controversy, Tbilisi Mayor Kakha Kaladze said he would do everything to keep the metro operating.
‘It will continue working. We will do everything to achieve it. A strike is their constitutional right, but their attitude is disappointing and very much wrong’, Kaladze said.
On 2 May, the Tbilisi City Court ruled workers could legally strike in a month. The decision came after Tbilisi Transport Company appealed to the court. They claimed metro transported 327,000 people daily on average and if shut down, it would also paralyse the rest of Tbilisi’s public transport infrastructure.
The decision on postponing the strike will be appealed by the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Centre (EMC), which will address the court in the name of Ertoba 2013.
‘The court made the decision to postpone the strike by considering solely the employer’s position, without the involvement of workers who were not able to present their alternative positions’, the EMC’s statement said.