A strike by manganese miners in the central Georgian town of Chiatura has come to an end after 18 days, with the mining company agreeing to key demands from the workers.
On Saturday, mining firm Georgian Manganese agreed to reverse new ore quotas that miners had described as ‘inhuman’. They also agreed to honour their contractual obligation to increase salaries by 12%, in line with inflation.
The miners went on strike after the company announced that workers would have to mine up to 40% more ore over shorter shifts. Both miners and labour activists said such demands were impossible to meet and would effectively result in a pay cut for miners.
The mines will resume work from 1 July.
[Read more on OC Media: ‘Thousands’ of miners go on strike in Chiatura]
The company also agreed to honour their legal obligation to provide paid holidays and sick leave. They additionally promised to reimburse strike days at 60% pay and to improve safety conditions in the mines.
A commission consisting of representatives of the company, workers, trade unions, and government officials will also be set up to decide on a range of other complaints, including improving health insurance, better safety equipment, and deferring bank loans for employees.
The strike began on 8 June and on 12 June, 10 miners went on a hunger strike. They were joined by an eleventh person several days later who sewed his mouth shut, while another sewed his eyes shut.
As negotiations faltered, a portion of the miners travelled to the capital Tbilisi on 19 June, where four more miners started a hunger strike the next day.
[Read more on OC Media: In pictures | Portrait of a mass hunger strike]
After the deal was reached, Tariel Mikatsadze, one of the striking workers, addressed those gathered outside parliament and reminded those gathered that they were originally demanding a 40% raise.
‘Considering that our friends are on a hunger strike for the 13th day, that we are on strike for the 19th day, we decided to agree to an 11.9% increase according to the inflation’, he said, adding that this proved that increasing their salaries was not their only principal demand.
Several of the protesters outside parliament told OC Media that given that some of the miners were putting their health at risk in the hunger strike, this was the bare minimum they could agree to.
Mikatsadze said that it was now crucial to ensure the company also fulfils the remaining demands, which will be discussed in the new commission.
‘If the same thing happens as happened after the mass strike in 2019, if they lie to us again, if they drag these issues over time, we will need your support again’, he added.
The Social Justice Center, a local rights group that assisted the workers during the strike, warned that the agreement did not include certain issues that Georgian Manganese was legally obliged to resolve.
‘Unfortunately, such basic issues as improving the daily meals of miners, reopening a new worker housing complex, resolving loan interest issues with the bank, and renewing equipment to protect labour safety were subjected to commission work.’
‘These issues concern the protection of labour rights at the basic level and they need to be seen in a legal perspective and immediately enforced and ensured’, the statement read.
The miners left Tbilisi on the evening of 24 June, with those who were on a hunger strike transferred to a hospital to recover.
Georgian Manganese also issued a statement confirming that the company would raise salaries according to inflation, something they previously agreed to in the collective agreement signed with workers in 2019.