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Batumi construction workers promised to continue working after lay-off controversy

21 September 2017
A gathering in front of the construction site where two workers died on 8 September (Manana Kveliashvili/Batumelebi)

A week after two construction workers died in Batumi, their colleagues claimed they were denied entrance to the construction site. The workers claim that they were told they were fired. After protests, the private Metro City company denied it and promised them they could continue working.

According to the workers, the issue came up after several of them took three days off in mid-September to ‘pay respects to the deceased’. They claim that after returning to their jobs on 19 September, they were told that they had been fired.

Tens of workers were joined on 20 September by trade unionists and members of the left-wing student group Auditorium 115 to protest against the decision. The group claimed approximately 200 workers would end up jobless.

Later that day, the manager of Metro City said during a meeting with the employees that ‘nobody had been fired’ and called the issue a ‘miscommunication’.

Raul Kakhadze, the general director of Metro City, told Liberali that the company ‘needed to add other workers to the construction site and this was the reason for the temporary suspension of the works’.

‘We have not fired workers, the works are temporarily on halt and this is not connected to their absence for several days’, Kakhadze added.

After a meeting with the managers, the company’s employee Avto Oniani told Liberali that the administration promised to resume construction works ‘in the upcoming days’.

High number of fatalities

The controversy followed a fatal accident in Batumi, the Georgian port city on the shores of the Black Sea on 8 September, in which two men died after falling off the seventh floor of a construction site.

An investigation was launched for the ‘violation of safety rules at a workplace’, but it’s unclear how the men, both in their thirties, fell. Trade unionists claim labour safety rules have been violated.

On 16 September, another worker died after an oxygen tank exploded in Tbilisi’s Saburtalo District. The police started an investigation into a ‘violation of safety rules at a workplace’.

According to Ilia Lezhava, the head of New Trade Union, the incident marked the 23rd death of a worker at a workplace in 2017. According to the official data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, 270 workers died and 776 were injured in 2011–2016 as a result of occupational accidents.

[Read on OC Media: Fatal workplace accidents show ‘need for labour inspection reform’]

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