Biblus employees complain of exploitation

10 February 2017

Employees of one of the most popular bookshop chains in Georgia, Biblus, are complaining about harsh working conditions and poor overtime compensation.

‘We are paid ₾300 ($115) a month to work six days a week, ten hours a day. Sometimes we even have to work not only as sales assistants, but stocking shelves and as janitors or cashiers as well, but we’re not paid for any of those activities’, said one employee in a video posted on Facebook on 9 January by student movement Auditorium 115, which called on other employees to ‘fight for a common cause’ and express solidarity.

In response to the video, Biblus’s administration denied the allegations and said that working hours in Biblus are eight hours per day, and that staying longer is voluntary, in which case, they claim, employees are paid for overtime.

Biblus, a leading book retailer in Georgia, runs 52  shops across the country and employs more than 200 people. Despite the claims of low salaries, Biblus argues that employees are given bonuses, which, according to them, sometimes exceed the original salary. However, employees stress a lack of transparency in the bonus system.

The case comes at a time when labour rights in Georgia have become a critical issue, with several activist groups describing the situation as a ‘social crisis’. Georgian supermarket chain Fresco was investigated last week for alleged exploitation and forced labour, and more than 300 people were fired from a nitrogen plant in Rustavi, a town 20 km south of Tbilisi. Additionally, the Georgian Public Broadcaster (GPB) is planning to shut down all talk-shows, which will result in the mass dismissal of employees.

Many posts have appeared on social media, some under the hashtag #გაბედეშენც (dare to speak up), in which people are telling their stories of hard working conditions, unpaid overtime, and how badly companies have treated them.

In protest at the allegations against Biblus, people have been rating the company on their Facebook page as ‘poor’, which has caused a massive decrease in their rating to under 2 out of 5 stars. Protest rallies and demonstrations are planned to protest against Biblus and Fresco, and to support employees of the Azoti nitrogen plant and GPB.