A group of coal miners from Tkibuli have demanded that Saknakhshiri GIG, the company that owns the mines, temporarily shut down operations in order to improve safety conditions.
The statement from the miners was issued on 15 April, ten days after six workers died and three were injured in a mining accident in Tkibuli.
The initiative group, which is not connected to any trade union, argued that the company should work with the government to improve labour and safety conditions in the mines. The group said workers should be paid during the temporary shutdown period, either by the company or the government.
The group also wants to sign a collective contract with the company, with labour and social guarantees, and demand that employees responsible for the conditions in the mines be fired.
The Georgian Trade Union Confederation (GTUC) has announced they support the idea of temporarily halting mining in Tkibuli. In a short statement on 11 April, the GTUC wrote that they believe at least the Mindeli mine, where the recent accident happened, should be shut down.
‘This cannot continue. Of course the mines should shut down. Do we have any guarantees that the same incident will not happen again? There is a permanent danger there now’, Tamaz Dolaberidze, Deputy Head of the GTUC told OC Media.
‘We should carefully examine these mines and work out a rehabilitation plan, otherwise, there will be no point. We will witness another accident in three or two months’, he said, adding that a meeting is scheduled for 19 April to discuss the problems in Tkibuli with the government, Saknakhshiri GIG, and the trade unions.
Miners held a protest in the centre of Tkibuli on 11 April where they were also demanding a reduction in the age of retirement for miners, and investment in Tkibuli’s hospital.
One miner, Davit Bakhutashvili, said during the protest that every time someone was injured, which he said happens often in Tkibuli, the injured are transported 60–70 kilometres for treatment. The Mayor of Tkibuli, Temur Chubinidze, met with protesters and promised to mediate with the government on their behalf.
According to Saknakhshiri GIG the probable cause of the 5 April accident was the sudden collapse of a tunnel; however the GTUC has questioned their explanation.
Tamaz Dolaberidze told OC Media that the GTUC have invited experts from Ukraine to investigate the causes of the accident, and that they will arrive on 23 April. An official investigation launched for possible violations of safety rules has not yet finished. Saknakhshiri GIG did not respond to the demands of protesting workers, but expressed a readiness to cooperate with the investigation.
Saknakhshiri GIG employs roughly 1,500 workers, mostly local residents of Tkibuli. It is part of the Georgian Industrial Group (GIG), a company with operations in energy, natural gas, and real estate.
[Read More on OC Media: Six miners killed in Georgia’s Tkibuli coal mine]