Georgia’s Trade Union of Medical Workers has accused the emergency services of illegally dismissing paramedics who took part in protests demanding better pay, giving them exams that were more difficult than those received by those who hadn’t protested.
Ambulance doctors, nurses, and drivers have been demanding higher wages and better working conditions since last year.
[Read on OC Media: Georgian paramedics protest working conditions and pay]
On Tuesday, a group of former paramedics held a protest at an ambulance training centre in Tbilisi with the support of trade unions to demand they be rehired. Irakli Amiranashvili, chair of the Trade Union of Medical Workers said that some of the dismissed emergency workers did not join Tuesday’s protest following pressure from their former employers.
The protesters stated that an unprecedented 200 emergency workers from across the country had failed an exam required to continue working as medical professionals, and that most of those who failed had taken part in the protests.
However, the Emergency Situations Coordination and Urgent Assistance Centre stated on 29 June that only 63 people had failed the exam, all of whom would cease working from 1 July.
‘More difficult exams’
Nugzar Potskhishvili, 50, who attended the protest, said he had been working as a paramedic for 21 years, and learned about being fired a week ago.
Potskhishvili said that prior to this, he had been protesting the fact that a 50% bonus payment introduced to emergency personnel during the COVID-19 pandemic had been cut despite promises it would remain.
Potskhishvili told OC Media he had had no problems at work, never received a reprimand, and had consistently successfully passed the exam in previous years.
Both Potskhishvili and Irakli Amiranashvili from the Trade Union of Medical Workers told OC Media that different groups had been given different versions of the exams.
Potskhishvili said that after he and others who protested failed their exams, they were not allowed to see detailed results or what errors they had supposedly made.
He added that one woman who took the exam along with him had told him she received an easier version of the test when he was not present.
Potskhishvili said he planned to challenge his dismissal in court.
‘Until the attitude changes in the healthcare sector […] patients will be left without qualified doctors’, he said. ‘This is not because doctors in Georgia are not qualified, but because, for example, when I worked 72 hours overnight, do you think my work would be adequate?’.
According to Amiranashvili, medical workers were not against undergoing exams or training to ensure they were qualified. He said that in addition to those who took part in protests allegedly receiving harder exams, the examination environment was unreasonably stressful, due to both time constraints and the attitude of exam supervisors.
Amiranashvili said that one ambulance driver died while attending a pre-exam training course on 29 June.
According to the union chair, 66-year-old Ioseb Kavlashvili had a heart attack during the training and was taken to the Vivamedi clinic, but could not be saved.
Kavlashvili’s colleagues told journalists that he was stressed and nervous about the exams.
The director of the Vivamedi clinic, Zurab Chkhaidze, told TV Pirveli that the driver’s heart ‘suddenly stopped’ and he had had no cardiac problems in the past.
However, the Emergency Situations Coordination and Urgent Assistance Centre stated that ‘the information that an employee of the centre died during exams in the educational training centre is not true’.