Social agents in Georgia have won a landmark victory against the government in their years-long struggle for better working conditions.
Employees of the Social Service Agency ended their latest strike on Saturday after largely paralysing the system last week.
The strike was part of a years-long fight by social agents — who are responsible for assessing if people are eligible for benefits payments — over low pay and exploitative working conditions.
The Solidarity Network, the trade union that organised the work stoppage, said that social agents would see raises of between 30%–60%, four months of paid maternity leave, and compensation for transport expenses incurred on the job.
The settlement also includes the replacement of short-term contracts — described as an ‘illegal practice’ by the Public Defender last May — with contracts of at least one year in length.
The settlement satisfied almost all of the issues cited by social agents in recent years, with the head of the Solidarity Network, Sopo Japaridze, describing them as ‘huge concessions’.
‘We received most of our demands with the ability to continue fighting for more’, Japaridze told OC Media. ‘In the scheme of strikes in Georgia, the gains are bigger than in most if not all [previous] strikes.’
Japaridze said the ministry had promised they had no plans for layoffs at the agency and to compensate employees for strike days.
Around 400 social agents went on strike on 17 January claiming that they were unable to fulfil their duties since they themselves were on the verge of poverty.
The Georgian Government previously raised their base salaries from ₾80 ($26) to ₾200 ($65) per month in June 2020, after threats of a strike. The agents also receive ₾4.80 ($1.60) per visit to a household.
The compromise struck on Friday contradicted a statement by the newly confirmed Health and Social Affairs minister Zurab Azarashvili, who on 17 January claimed that social agent salaries were ‘adequate’ to their workload.
The dispute erupted several times during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the latest dispute beginning in September 2021.
According to Sopo Japaridze, the ministry acknowledged the problems facing social agents during negotiations that preceded the strike, including low wages and one-month contracts, but pulled out of talks on 10 December.
This coincided with the Health and Social Affairs Minister Ekaterine Tikaradze announcing her resignation the same day.
‘The workers were outraged that they had been blatantly lied to and disrespected’, Japaridze told OC Media.