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Dozens of miners gathered in Chiatura, an industrial town in central Georgia, on Thursday in a demonstration organised by the Georgian Trade Unions Confederation’s youth wing, demanding ‘dignified working conditions’ for miners. They were asking for higher pay, collective contracts, and safe working conditions from Georgian Manganese, the company that owns the manganese mines in the town. If their demands are not met, they say they will hold a bigger demonstration.
‘It’s been so long that we’ve been demanding collective contracts, which will include rates for overtime pay, rates for work on legal holidays, night-shift pay, different social benefits and legal guarantees, and labour safety issues to regulate relations between miners and the administration’, Tamaz Dolaberidze, the head of Georgian Trade Unions Confederation, said at the demonstration.
He said the company has not raised salaries for workers for three years, and that up to 500 people had been laid off. Georgian Manganese were making large profits, while the conditions for workers were worsening, Dolaberidze added.
Leila Zarnadze, a worker at the company’s Shukruti ore processing plant in Chiatura, told Liberali that the company’s administration had been neglecting workers.
‘Our working conditions are very poor. I make up to ₾500 a month. If you were to chain a dog where I work, it would break free and escape. There was no heating at my workplace when it was freezing. I became disabled in that factory. Nobody pays any attention to us’, Zarnadze said.
Georgian Manganese operates seven mines in Chiatura and is a major producer of manganese. On 11 May, the Ministry of Environment appointed a special manager to Georgian Mangenese, after a court ruled the company had created ‘extremely severe ecological conditions’ in Chiatura.
[Read more about Georgian Manganese’s special manager on OC Media: Georgian Manganese protests state-appointed ‘special manager’]
Nika Chikovani, the special manager had promised to meet with miners, but he cancelled the meeting due to health problems.
OC Media spoke with the head of Georgian Manganese’s administration, Irakli Petriashvili, who said he could not elaborate on whether miners’ salaries will rise, as this is a matter of negotiation, but said that a rise was ‘likely’.
In terms of collective contracts for workers, he said the company is currently negotiating conditions with three Trade Unions they have involved in the company.
‘We do already pay for overtime work. As for pay on holidays, nobody is obliged to work on holidays. Those who do, they do it voluntarily’, Petriashvili told OC Media.
He said it is likely the company’s administration will meet with the miners next week.
Georgian Manganese is a subsidiary of Florida-based Georgia-American Alloys, which is registered in Luxembourg. Georgia-American Alloys also owns a ferroalloy plant in Zestaponi — Georgia’s largest silicomanganese processing plant — and Vartsikhe, a nearby hydroelectric facility that partly powers factories in Zestaponi and Chiatura.
Georgia-American Alloys has said that they are ready to cooperate with the government appointed manager to avoid ‘complete paralysis’ at the company.
The company employs more than 3,000 people in Chiatura, making mining vital for the town’s economy.
The company has also faced repeated accusations of employing exploitative labour practices, which labour rights groups allege have led to injuries and death. The company has denied any violations of the law.
Labour Safety in Chiatura
On Monday, a worker died in Chiatura’s mines after a tunnel collapse.
[Read more about labour safety in Chiatura on OC Media: Miner dies in Chiatura tunnel collapse]
Zaza Abramashvili, 45, died at around 05:00 on 26 March, the Trade Union of Metallurgy, Mining, and Chemical Industry Workers said.
The union claimed that the area where Abramashvili was working was a high risk, ‘but the administration made him work there’.
Changes in the labour legislation
Over 1,300 workers have been killed or injured in occupational accidents in Georgia over the past eight years, according to official statistics. Data obtained from the Ministry of Internal Affairs by OC Media shows that in 2010–2017, 359 people were killed and 984 injured in workplace accidents.
Georgia’s Parliament adopted a long-awaited bill on labour safety this month after facing pressure from labour rights groups. The law mandates higher fines for employers violating safety rules, but these will only apply to 11 ‘hazardous’ sectors.
These are: transport, light industry, furniture manufacturing, glass production, heavy industry, the oil and gas industries, metallurgy, mining, construction, electricity, and chemical production.
The sanctions envisaged by the Law on Safety at Work will take effect after 1 August 2018.
The Public Defender’s Office said on Monday that adopting this law ‘should be assessed as a step forward’. However, they criticised the law, as labour inspectors will still be unable to inspect workplaces without their prior consent.