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Georgian online casino employees unionise for strike after mass firings

9 August 2019
Protest in front of Evolution Gaming office, Tbilisi. (GTUC)

Employees of online gambling provider Evolution Gaming in Georgia have created a union after several employees claimed to have been fired for demanding better wages and working conditions. 

Evolution Gaming is a Swedish company listed in Stockholm that provides gambling services to a number of prominent online casinos internationally, including Malta-based Betway and London-based William Hill. 

The company provides ‘live dealers’, where players interact with a real dealer via a live-stream, betting real money.

Evolution Gaming claims to have offices in 12 countries, including Georgia, where they employ over 1,500 people in Tbilisi. 

A group of employees — 400 according to them — launched a several-day-long protest in front of Evolution Gaming’s offices on 30 July. 

They were demanding a 50% rise in salaries, which according to protesters range from ₾300–₾500 ($100–$170).

Giorgi Diasamidze, the head of the Trade, Agrarian, and Industry Union, told OC Media that most of the striking employees were shufflers, who have monthly salaries of ₾400 ($140), but that they were also supported by dealers, who earn higher wages. 

The employees also complained of bad working conditions, including an unsanitary situation in the offices. One worker said insects biting employees and malfunctioning air conditioners were among the problems.  

Mass firings 

Korneli Katsarava speaking to journalists during 30 July’s protest in front of Evolution Gaming. (GTUC)

Following the first day of protests on 30 July, several employees claimed to have been fired via e-mail and SMS messages.

In the following six days of protests, employees added to their demands the rehiring the dismissed workers and a guarantee that none of the protesters would face any disciplinary measures.

The company has called the protest ‘an illegal strike’, but Giorgi Diasamidze insisted that ‘only the court of law decides in Georgia’ if a protest qualifies as an illegal strike.

The Georgian Constitution guarantees the right to strike but the Labour Code stipulates that employees may only do so 21 days after notifying their employer and the Labour Ministry and undergoing a mediation process.

Korneli Katsarava, who was a shuffler team leader at Evolution Gaming, told OC Media that since their first protest, the company had fired 45 people, including himself, in many cases ‘on the pretext’ of old disciplinary violations.

Katsarava said that the company had threatened to fire several other employees if they joined the protest.

He said he expected more employees to be fired as the company was currently hiring 150 new people.

Other employees said the company cited violations of the terms of six-month ‘probation contracts’ for their dismissal. 

Former dealer Dachi Chalabashvili told OC Media he was notified about the termination of his contract by SMS on 4 August, despite joining the protests outside of his working hours.  

He said the company told him he was fired for using the ‘emergency button’, which an employee uses if they feel unable to continue working. 

Chalabashvili said in a video address on Facebook that the real reason behind his dismissal was the strike and that employees were unionising. (Facebook)

Diasamidze said they considered them to be ‘unlawfully laid-off’ workers and were ready to represent them in the court in parallel to a possible strike if mediation proved unsuccessful.

‘Twelve days’ until new strike

Twenty-one-year-old shuffler Beka Akopashvili told OC Media that he was fired for ‘failing to show up at work’ after he joined the protests. (Facebook)

On 31 July, a day after the protests first started, the employees announced they were forming a union, and lodged a request for mediation. 

According to Katsarava, they are now waiting for 12 days to pass to be able to launch a legal strike, after which he said over 400 people would join. 

Giorgi Diasamidze, the Head of Trade, Agrarian, and Industry Union, told OC Media that a mediator from the Labour Ministry had already been appointed and reached out to both sides. 

Evolution Gaming declined to comment, but Netgazeti quoted them as saying on 31 July that they were ‘absolutely open’ for dialogue with the ‘segment of employees’ who disagreed with the company. 

‘Naturally, we respect the freedom of expression of our employees; their security and well-being is our main priority. However, any such activity must be conducted according to Georgian law’, the company reportedly added.

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