Nearly 300 engineering technicians from Georgian telecoms giant MagtiCom have gone on strike demanding better wages to keep up with rising inflation.
The striking employees, who are responsible for installing and repairing phone and internet lines, gathered outside MagtiCom’s head office in Tbilisi on 13 January.
They were awaiting the reaction from their employer, who employees insist owed them a ‘reasonable’ salary hike considering the high rate of inflation and the work they carried out during the pandemic.
According to the National Statistics Office, the consumer price index rose by 13.9% in the 12 months to December 2021, the highest in over a decade.
Tornike Ebilashvili, who said he had worked for MagtiCom for over four years, told OC Media that employees had given the company a week before stopping work, which expired yesterday.
‘We demanded that a salary raise at least be discussed’, he said.
Ebilashvili claimed the only response they had received from the company was a strong rebuttal of their demands.
According to him, the company paid engineering technicians an average of ₾950 ($310) per month.
MagtiCom, one of the largest groups in telecommunications companies in Georgia, did not reply to repeated appeals by OC Media for comment, nor was a representative available to comment at their main office.
Online outlet Georgian Business Media, however, cited the company as saying that they had raised the salaries of all employees by at least 10% after the pandemic started, with engineering technicians receiving a 23% pay bump.
The site said MagtiCom had also paid out ₾3 million ($970,000) in bonuses during the pandemic.
Tornike Ebilashvili strongly denied some of those claims, insisting that the 10% raise happened before the pandemic, and that the 23% raise came at the expense of mass layoff during the pandemic.
According to Malkhaz Kontselidze, another engineering technician on strike who said his net monthly salary fluctuated between ₾800–₾850 ($260–$280), told OC Media that the company did not value their work, including that done during last year’s lockdown ‘when basically it was just us and ambulances working’.
Kontselidze, who said he had been working for the company for three years, also complained that overtime work was not paid at a higher rate.
None of the MagtiCom employees that spoke with OC Media on Thursday said they were unionised. However, Lavrenti Alania, the Deputy Chair of the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation (GTUC), the largest union group in Georgia, said that while they were not formally involved in the dispute, they were closely following the protest.
Alania told OC Media that the workers were bereft of ‘basic working conditions’, not only with regards to their salaries, but also in terms of labour safety and a lack of health insurance.