Georgian supermarket employees forced to purchase outdated products

9 July 2018
Nikora supermarket (Robin Fabbro/OC Media)

Four employees of supermarket chain Nikora have accused the company of violating their labour rights, saying the management required them to buy outdated products from their stores. On Friday, the company’s director Davit Urushadze confirmed the reports to TV Imedi but claimed employees were made to purchase only outdated products they had failed to remove from shelves.

The workers said on Friday that their salaries, ranging from ₾300–₾450 ($120–$180) per month, were regularly cut without prior warning. The company told the media that this was included in workers’ contracts, saying that employees were informed of this when they start working at Nikora.

One of the employees to go public with her complaint, Shorena Lobzhanidze, told OC Media that this was not the case and that she found out about the rule ‘several months’ after she took the job. According to her, workers had to buy outdated products both from the shelves and in storage even after they had registered the expiration dates as required.

Another of the workers, Ilona Skamkochaishvili, told OC Media she was not informed of the rule and that the company started to cut losses from her salary several months after she joined the team.

Lobzhanidze said that while four employees were talking openly of the policy, others had shared similar stories in private.

Another of the workers protesting against Nikora, Mariam Zargari, said she had received offensive messages from her current supervisor in an attempt to ‘intimidate’ the group. She said it was regretful that other workers might feel pressured to collect signatures in support of the management as she and the other three protest Nikora’s policies.

Two of those protesting are cashiers, while the other two are sales consultants. The group said their job titles were only a formality, and that their real duties include working as sales consultants, cleaners, loaders, and sometimes as security.

Speaking to Iberia TV’s Businesscode, Nikora Trade’s Executive Director Davit Urushadze confirmed that ‘in some stores’ the company did not employ a dedicated cleaner and so other members of staff share this responsibility.

Another of the employees, Nino Khakhishvili told journalists that staff must accompany each customer as if any products are stolen, the staff are forced pay for them.

On Friday, the Solidarity Network, a local labour rights group representing the four workers, said that two meetings between the company and the employees had ended without result.

[Read on OC Media: Working 24 hours straight in Georgia’s supermarkets]

‘No place for slavery in modern Georgia’

Sopo Japaridze, head of Solidarity Network, told OC Media that after contacting the authorities, the Labour Inspection Department under Georgia's Ministry of Health and Labour will examine the situation within the next two weeks.

Sopo Kiladze, the head of Parliament’s Human Rights Committee, commented on the scandal on Friday, saying ‘there is no place for slavery in modern Georgia’, and urging Nikora to adhere to ‘high standards of protecting’ labour rights.

The ruling Georgian Dream party, of which Kiladze is a member, has come under fire from labour rights groups for failing to go far enough in strengthening the country’s Labour Inspection Department. While broadening the department’s mandate, previously limited to checking health and safety standards, in reforms passed in 2017, the government failed to overturn an employer’s right to refuse entry to inspectors.

[Read more about the latest changes in Georgia’s labour laws on OC Media: Labour ministry to ‘inspect for rights violations’ in Georgia]

Japaridze told OC Media she found the Kiladze’s statement surprising given what she said was the government’s poor record of protecting labour rights but added that ultimately she did not expect anything to change. She said that unions in the service sector were poorly organised, as the sector is highly unstable and mobile, making workers more vulnerable.

Japaridze said the government should address two problems affecting employees in the sector: by banning employers from compensating losses from workers’ salaries, and cracking down on unregulated, inadequately tracked hours that employees are often made to work.

The Solidarity Network, representing Shorena Lobzhanidze, have stated that she had to work more than 90 hours weekly, while the labour code allows for no more than 40 excluding overtime. Their campaign exposing ‘wage theft’ said the workers’ salaries were ‘stolen’ from them and ‘from the state’ in the form of unpaid taxes by Nikora.

Speaking to OC Media, Lobzhanidze also complained of a lack of privacy in stores. She said she was unable to use a changing room as CCTV cameras were operating in them.

Georgia’s law on personal data protection prohibits surveillance in dressing rooms and bathrooms; violation of the law is punishable by a fine of ₾500 ($200).

Similar allegations against supermarket chain Fresco caused anger last year after a number of female employees complained that CCTV cameras were installed in women’s changing rooms and that these were being abused by male members of security. The company responded at the time that they installed cameras in the women’s changing rooms alone to ‘prevent theft and physical confrontation’, which they claimed female employees were more prone to, and denied that any male members of staff had access to the footage.

Fresco was eventually fined ₾2,000 ($800) by Georgia’s Personal Data Protection Inspector for violating rules on video surveillance, and ordered to destroy all footage.

OC Media reached out to Nikora for further details, but the company declined to comment.

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